In mid-March, Choice staff and AmeriCorps members prepared and implemented plans to continue services during the pandemic, COVID-19. Rooted in our organizational values– especially youth-centered commitments, an abiding belief in humans and a practice of shared leadership–we reimagined our work during a public health emergency.
Our highest priority remains the same: we support young people.
What does it mean to do field service in this period of social distancing? We strive for social connectedness. At present, we conduct our visits with young people remotely, using tools such as email, phone calls, text message, and FaceTime. This is not easy. How do we maintain and cultivate trust through a device? Admittedly, it may be occasionally awkward and strained. And still, our teams are working hard to set appointments, reach out, and connect youth and families to community based resources. Some rhythms are familiar: we accept referrals, schedule intake appointments, develop service plans, conduct needs assessments, and help to set goals. Others take on new forms. Examples from each of our signature programs illustrate our efforts:
The Youth Advisory Board met and will, as ever, provide guidance to make sure the organization is youth-led as well as youth-serving. They shared the following statement.
We know it is hard during these times of social distancing.
Take care of yourself and be mindful of your community and take what you need. If you know someone who is older
or more vulnerable, check on them.
Find something that you like to do at home.
We don’t know how long this will take, so it’s important to find some time, even if it’s a few minutes, to
learn something new and keep your brain active.
2020 seniors: it might not feel like we are going to make it to graduation, but we are going to get there.
Don’t be racist or xenophobic during this time. If you have witnessed xenophobia as a bystander, we urge you to
educate or intervene with those around you. We all play a role in creating safe public space by supporting each
other when we’re harassed. We all have the right to be safe.
We need to make sure we do everything we can to stay safe and healthy in order to make sure we can help others
do the same.
Members of our Intensive Advocacy teams engage in resource brokering, complete virtual community service hours, play video games, and work on homework packets. One young person is teaching an AmeriCorps member Spanish, another video chatted with AmeriCorps member as he exercised, practicing his skills. Young people continue to accomplish the goals they set for themselves and improvise; we cheer and admire.
Jobs Team AmeriCorps members and staff continue jobs clubs, resume preparation, and applications. Despite temporarily closing Flying Fruit at University of Baltimore, our social enterprise, we are able to pay our cohort of young people, ensuring them income during a period of economic uncertainty. As we suspended operations, we shared an abundance of perishable foods with our partners at Black Yield Institute, Wild Thyme, Restoring Inner City Hope (RICH), Elev8 Baltimore, Cherry Hill Development Corporation, and Cherry Hill Fest Baltimore.
Staff people in our education program are busily planning ArtRising, our annual commemoration, as a virtual event. ArtRising began in 2016 as a forum to amplify young people’s voices and concerns. The inaugural program commemorated the first anniversary of the killing of Freddie Gray and the Uprising that emerged in part due to a poorly planned response to years of youth and community frustrations with a lack of police accountability. Look for announcements and invitations here and on our social media platforms.
Our human resources staff people continue our AmeriCorps recruitment process: hosting information sessions, interviews, and shadowing hosted electronically. Professional development includes new opportunities like how to maintain well-being in a time of crisis as well as our ongoing training sessions like community engagement.
Several institutions guide our services. We developed this shift in programming in keeping with protocols from UMBC, University System of Maryland, and State of Maryland. We were also guided by other stakeholders and in consultation with peers at community-based organizations. We are grateful for our strong partnerships with organizations whose steadfast assistance has enabled us to proceed: Department of Juvenile Services; AmeriCorps/CNCS; Marguerite Casey Foundation; Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism; Northrop Grumman, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Starbucks Foundation; Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention, Youth and Victim Services; Howard County Local Children’s Board and Baltimore County government.
The current public health situation calls upon us to embody and enact our core principles. Choice is uniquely poised to support young people and their families in a time of acute need. We specialize in outreach, youth development, crisis intervention, empowering youth and families, and fostering resilience. We work within systems to effectuate change. Now, perhaps more than ever, the pandemic lays bare racial, social, and economic inequities. As we address basic needs and direct services, we also imagine a new world. Our work continues.