Stepping up to fill a void

By Christine Bryant
Staff Writer

Photos courtesy of the Boys & Girls Club
The J. Ashburn Youth Center has opened its doors to nearly 40 students by providing them with a place to learn and remain safe during the day. Children can do their school work or participate in recreational programs.

As Columbus City Schools continue to operate remotely, one local organization is stepping up to help fill learning voids.

Whether it’s not having an adult to work with or a lack of internet access, some students face challenges through remote learning.

To help these students, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Ohio has completely transformed its traditional model of providing after-school programming to a model that provides assistance during school hours.

The J. Ashburn Youth Center on the Hilltop, one of the organization’s largest clubs, has opened its doors to nearly 40 students by providing them with a place to learn and remain safe during the day. The center also offers additional programming, hot meals and snacks for the students.

The goal has been to create a safe environment while providing academic and emotional support so that students in kindergarten through 12th grade can thrive – in less-than-ideal conditions, says Doug Wolf, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus.

While the organization shifted to virtual programming at the beginning of the summer, when school resumed, Wolf said staff members knew they needed to create a place in the community where kids who were at risk of falling through the cracks could get the support they needed.

“We started asking, ‘Can we do this?’, and our response was that we must,” he said.

Staff members immediately began forming a plan that would take into account COVID-19 safety precautions. In addition to monitoring and assisting the students as they complete their school work, the Boys & Girls Clubs has partnered with organizations like Nationwide Children’s Hospital to provide mental health programming and other social services.

“The vast majority of our students are in Columbus City Schools, so while they’re here, they are engaged in their school activities, and then we provide social services around that,” Wolf said. “They get the help they need while having a lot of fun.”

Being open to students enrolled in the program also helps ensure they stay off the streets, reduces the potential that they are exposed to drugs and violence, and promotes involvement in school and other healthy activities, Wolf said.

“The most important thing for us was to create meaningful connections to trusted adults,” he said.

While COVID-19 restrictions have limited the number of volunteer opportunities within the organization, Wolf says he encourages the public to check the website for any updates on how they can help.

As the pandemic response continues to evolve, Wolf says the organization will keep an eye on whether local school districts open back up their doors to in-person learning.

“We’ll reach back out to our families and see how we can best serve them,” he said.

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