During shutdown, Garage youth center is helping students and the community
By Richard Gaw
On normal days throughout the year, the Garage Community & Youth Centers in West Grove and in Kennett Square are bustling with the sound of young people at work, in the company of Garage staff and small armies of volunteers and mentors.
This is not a normal time to be living through, however, and although the coronavirus shutdown of most of Pennsylvania has closed the garage’s doors to its usual activities, the centers are still moving at a furious pace, with initiatives intended to keep its programs and mission alive.
Through online community donations, the Garage has raised nearly $10,000 – including a $5,000 grant from the United Way of Chester County -- for its COVID-19 Response Fund to support staff who are committed to supporting the students and communities they reach.
The funding has helped give the Garage’s students access to “The Virtual Garage,” that allows virtual students to conduct schoolwork checks and academic assistance, as well as mental and emotional support – through Zoom meetings with staff and volunteers.
Working with the Garage’s graduate coordinator and volunteer coordinators, students benefit from virtual student tutoring, SAT preparation, Career Compass summer employment opportunities, and assistance with college and financial aid applications.
The Garage’s staff is also picking up school work from the Kennett Consolidated School District office and delivering it to students who do not have internet access.
The tendrils of the Garage’s outreach also extends to providing self-care workshops for students through Facebook Live and Instagram TV to ensure they have daily access to mental health tools during the pandemic, and while schools are closed. Programs will include girls and boys programs, career presentations, educational workshops, cooking classes and academic enrichment.
“We also have a daily ZOOM hour after school that students can pop join every day 2 p.m. and connect with each other, with staff and volunteers,” said Garage Community & Youth Center Executive Director Kristin Proto. “If they need schoolwork help, then we set aside a one-on-one mentor-student meeting with their volunteer in their own Zoom room.”
The arrival of coronavirus sent many Chester County residents on a mission to purchase much-needed food and supplies to assist them and their families during their respective quarantines. While food markets have generally remained open during COVID-19, getting to them has become very difficult for many of the parents whose children attend the Garage activities.
“Quickly, it became clear there was a gap,” Proto said. “Families were asking where they could get basic supplies. The pandemic sent the general public into panic buying, leaving our low-income families scrambling to find anything they needed. With limited transportation and financial resources, they couldn’t get to the stores with stocked items.
“As the weeks continued and with fewer of our parents working, they simply didn't have the means to purchase food and necessities for their families.”
To answer the need, the Garage’s staff has created a supply drive to support the requests of our families and community for basic household supplies such as diapers, soap and toilet paper. During the first week of the drive, 14 supply boxes were collected and packaged; seven weeks later, the Garage staff has packed more than 600 boxes that have served over 300 families.
Individual families can now submit their requests weekly and Garage staff will collect items and pack boxes for pick up with the distribution of school lunches from Kennett and Avon Grove School districts.
While most families pick up their supplies at the Kennett Square location on Broad Street, volunteers make deliveries to families who for various reasons are not able to pick up their boxes in person.
“The community has been a major support, dropping off donations to share with families and financially donating for us to make bulk purchases,” Proto said. “We could not have created this major distribution program without the dozens of individuals, businesses, and churches who are supporting us.”
The Garage is also partnering with Core Family Practice, the Financial House, the Kennett Presbyterian Church, the Hilton Garden Inn-Kennett Square, the Kennett Area YMCA, the Mighty Writers, Sew for PA, the United Way of Chester County, the Willowdale Chapel and the West Grove-Avondale and Longwood rotaries.
For many families whose children who attend the Garage’s many programs, navigating through the pandemic has raised inconveniences of another kind. Among the Garage’s staff, there was concern that these parents would have difficulty comprehending the ever-changing narrative of rules, ordinances and laws coming from the local, state and federal government, as well as local school districts. To help bridge the communication gap, the Garage staff initially started pointing families to the many other emergency resources which already exist in our community.
While a portion of the contents in the supply boxes come directly from community donations and partnering organizations, the bulk of supplies are purchased by the Garage. For 300 families, that’s about $2,000 a week, Proto said.
“We know each week that we are helping families who are in crisis stretch themselves just a bit further,” Proto said. “If this how we can help, we will do our best. This is not going to be our forever plan, but we know it’s something we know we can help with right now, during a crisis, and we just hope that this ends soon so that we can continue to what we do normally.”
To make a donation to the COVID-19 Response Fund, visit the Garage Community & Youth Center website at www.garageyouthcenter.org, and click “Support,” then “Donate.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.