Revamped After-School Programs Important Piece of Youth Growth at Mercy Home

Revamped After-School Programs Important Piece of Youth Growth at Mercy Home

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has provided many challenges to Mercy Home’s Education and Career Resources department, it has also given them plenty of opportunities for creativity, innovation, and youth involvement.

“Honestly, being able to revamp what [we’ve done] traditionally … has been very inspirational for us,” Brittany Terrell, director of education resources, said. “It’s been very inspirational for us because it allows us to really be creative and it allows us to take on our roles in ways that we’ve never [done] before. It’s not exhausting, it’s really fun and creative.”

ASPs are definitely essential to the holistic development of our youth at Mercy Home.

One area that has allowed the ECR department to be especially creative is in after-school programs (ASPs). Because of safety reasons, outside vendors can no longer come to the Home and facilitate classes. Now, classes are limited to three total and all led by Mercy Home coworkers. For additional safety, ASPs are maintained within “sibling programs” to minimize contact with other programs.

“ASPs are definitely essential to the holistic development of our youth at Mercy Home,” Brittany said. “And so for me, it was imperative that we continue the services, but in a way that meets their needs and takes into consideration all the safety protocols for COVID-19.”

With these limitations in place, ECR coworkers decided to try to limit the amount of virtual classes (sensing burnout from virtual learning) and instead rely upon coworkers to teach in-person classes that are engaging. To get the kids more involved, they decided to involve the kids in choosing what kind of ASP classes they wanted to participate in.

“I love the fact that we are really including the youth in our decisions and including a lot of their input,” Brittany said. “We’re surveying them, we’re getting ideas from them. … And so that really increases the engagement.”

At the West Loop Campus, the three classes currently being offered are Inspirational Thursdays for Sheil and Campbell homes, Chess Club for Cooke and Mahoney homes, and Sports for Speh and Bosco homes. Every few weeks, each group will switch to try a new class.

 Chess Club is being facilitated virtually by volunteers at Chicago Chess Club. They are being assisted by one of our young men, Sal, who helps relaying messages to the instructors and walks around the classroom to help the other boys.

Brittany, Keli Shllaku, and Katie Cunningham lead the weekly Inspirational Thursdays class, which allows our young men to discuss current events and other issues that are at the forefront of their communities. For example, they recently discussed youth empowerment and how they can being making a difference at their age.

“We talked to the guys about social movements and things that were started by youth their age and younger,” Brittany explained. “Because I think a lot of [them] feel like they’re too young to start anything or do anything, but there are people who are 14, 15, and 16 years old who are starting movements globally and they’re using social media to … get it around the world.”

So far, the conversations have been going well. Suzanne Bush, the coordinator of tutoring and after-school programs, noted that the instructors have found ways to keep the boys engaged and involved.

“[They] have been doing stellar at running Inspirational Thursdays for Campbell and Sheil,” she said. “It is not always easy getting our guys to participate in discussions; however, these ladies have been putting a lot of effort into finding content that is relevant to our young men and presenting it in an engaging manner.”

The sports class, which Suzanne has been facilitating, is focused on keeping our boys active and exposing them to different sports each week, like dodgeball, track and field, and hockey.

And though the limited choices could have presented an issue to our young men who are used to more options, they have been taking it in stride and using the opportunity to perhaps learn about things they weren’t initially interested in.

“It lends to the treatment opportunity to [think about] if you don’t like something, how do you stick with it still?” Suzanne said. “Or how do you [use the] opportunity to expose yourself to different activities you might not have done [before]? So how do you make the best of what’s happening?”

Meanwhile, at the Walsh Campus, our young women had the opportunity to give input about what kind of ASP classes they want to participate in. At the beginning of the school year, Michaela Lambert, the coordinator of tutoring and after-school programs, surveyed girls from each program to see what they were interested in. Two of the most popular choices were fitness classes and baking.

Our girls have learned how to make tasty treats like pumpkin bread, cookies, and Rice Krispy treats, along with holding a “Chopped” competition to test their skills. They have also been enjoying dance classes, and are focusing on staying fit throughout the winter.

Of course, transitioning to a COVID-safe format has also brought its challenges.

“I would say trying to be versatile has been very challenging because I don’t want to bore [the girls],” Michaela said.

“So trying to find really cool, fun activities online, or vendors who are really good at transitioning right now to that online piece, I think is really hard.”

But even amidst the challenges, ECR coworkers have been able to work collaboratively and rely upon their coworkers for ideas and help.

“It’s definitely a collaborative effort for both Youth Programs and Education and Career Resources,” Brittany said. “We absolutely would not be able to do it without the participation of their admin staff and their youth care workers really valuing ASPs at the level that we do and really knowing the importance of having these extracurricular activities.”

The classes are being held in trimesters, so the ECR coworkers are hard at work planning future classes that will continue to engage our kids. Brittany said one class planned is social media influence and virtual entrepreneurship, which she plans to co-facilitate with one of our young men, Tyler, who has an interest in the subject.

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