Doug Wolf can still remember the day everything changed, not just for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Ohio but for just about every nonprofit in the area.
But the chief executive officer of the Columbus-area Boys and Girls Clubs also can speak with pride about how organizations like his have been able to navigate what is approaching year-long battle with a global pandemic, many with help from organizations like the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation.
"It was on March 13 that we made the decision in alignment with the state mandate to close schools that we would close our doors, not knowing when they might open again," Wolf said recently. "We did go right to work establishing a virtual club experience, but we know that the core of what we do and how we achieve our success is really by establishing strong, meaningful connections with trusted adults, and that is something that is hard to replicate virtually.
"While we were building the virtual club experience, we were working hard to reopen our doors for the summer programs, and we were able to do that on June 15 with the support of organizations like the Blue Jackets."
These challenging times made things a little different for the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation when it came to its annual grants, but certainly not impossible. The foundation announced last week that for the 2020-21 season, $251,300 was granted to 13 Columbus nonprofits, bringing the Foundation's cumulative support of youth health and wellness initiatives in central Ohio to $11.6 million since its inception in 2000.
The nonprofits supported this year include not just the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Ohio but A Kid Again, Children's Hunger Alliance, City of Columbus Recreation and Parks Foundation, Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center, Columbus Early Learning Centers, Columbus Metropolitan Library Foundation, Community Shelter Board, Flashes of Hope, Flying Horse Farms, KidSMILES Pediatric Dental Clinic, Nationwide Children's Hospital and Nellie's Champions for Kids (NC4K).
The announcement of the grants this year was sponsored by Jet's Pizza, which last week provided lunch to more than 200 children during programming at four of this year's grant partner locations.
Just like the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Clintonvile-Beechwold Community Resources Center also had to figure out how to best serve its constituency without the ability to do everything in person. The settlement house, which serves the northside community, focuses on providing family services, senior supportive services and youth services.
When it comes to the latter, the organization was helped this year by a $10,000 grant from the CBJ Foundation for its Kids Club, specifically its summer reading program.
"What the Columbus Blue Jackets have been able to do for us is provide the funding for us to really provide good, quality help to kids around reading," said Bill Owens, executive director of the CBCRC. "Particularly during the pandemic period, it has been difficult to provide any kinds of services, and those that are traditionally done in person are even more challenging."
This year, 100 percent of in-person participants completed the summer reading program and read for at least 30 minutes daily. In addition, participants received a backpack filled with supplies to help get them ready for the school year, and Kids Club members have continued to read for at least 30 minutes each day during the 2020-21 school year.
In addition, the grant money from the Blue Jackets allowed the organization's longtime certified reading specialist, Shawn Schmittigen, to continue to connect with kids throughout the summer. In all, more than 100 kids were reached through the program either in-person or virtually this summer.
"She is able to work with the kids, assess their reading skills and identify those difficulties that they are having," Owens said. "During the pandemic, she was a very important person, and thanks to the Columbus Blue Jackets was able to virtually read to kids over the computer through Zoom rather than do that in person. I think the value of that is even beyond trying to keep them up on their reading abilities and having them not lose their abilities, but also, it's a familiar person.
"During all of these rather tumultuous times, that they have a familiar person that some of them have known for years to read to them and essentially provide some reassurance that things are going to keep going OK was just incredibly valuable. I don't know how we'd ever measure how important it was for those kids to keep working with somebody that they've known for years during this time when their schooling is so incredibly disrupted."
Owens said the Blue Jackets grant money also helps further partnerships the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources center has with Thurber House as well as COSI to provide science kits to kids. It's all part of a partnership with the Blue Jackets that helps lift all boats.
"It provides some enthusiasm and draws in some folks," Owens said. "I think it does two things. It probably draws some people toward hockey that otherwise wouldn't have known about it, and I think it helps folks that are into the Columbus Blue Jackets and the hockey to know more about our settlement house and what we're doing here and how to get the kids involved. It's turned out really well."
The Blue Jackets Foundation also provided $10,000 to the Boys and Girls Club, which focuses on promoting safety, healthy lifestyles, academic success, and character and leadership development in an effort to empower young people to reach their full potential.
The grant from the CBJ Foundation this year allowed the nonprofit to continue its summer programming at the J. Ashburn Jr. Clubhouse on the west side, including educational opportunities as well as places to go where childcare was available amid the pandemic.
"In a typical summer, low-income young people on average will lose two or three months of academic progress," Wolf said. "We were coming into a summer where they were already out of classrooms for months. It was really an extended period of time. Us being able to open the J. Ashburn facility on the Hilltop was so important to help us close the academic achievement gap.
"Our data does show that not only do our kids that participate in our summer program prevent summer learning loss, many of them make academic gains during the summer, so again, the support from the Blue Jackets and our ability to open the J. Ashburn club is going to help us close the academic achievement gap now but is also going to bear fruit for decades to come with these young people."
Much like Owens, Wolf sees the partnership with the Blue Jackets Foundation as helping provide concrete outcomes for not just his nonprofit but the 12 others on the list, especially in what has been an uncertain time of late.
"I would note that while we're in very different businesses, the Blue Jackets and the Boys & Girls Clubs, I think there is a very strong mission alignment with what we're trying to accomplish, and that's clear with your philanthropic priorities," Wolf said. "Where you spend your time and money is a real demonstration of your priorities, and the Blue Jackets said loud and clear this summer that our community and the kids in our community are our priority, and that I think is huge."