For almost 25 years, the Whitin Community Center's Youth Outreach Rockdale Youth Center (RYC) program has run as a free after-school program from 2:00pm - 6:00pm Monday - Friday. With the recommendation by Northbridge Public Schools recently to begin the school year as full remote learning, we believe that the RYC should open from 8:00am - 6:00pm Monday - Friday.
The families in our care, who could use help financially, need a safe location for their children to receive social, emotional, recreational, and academic support as our community deals with the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also may need to provide more computers/tablets for students in need during the day to accommodate their new "classrooms". We recognize the needs of children, families, and school instructors in having additional support from partner community agencies to support both short and long-term goals of keeping students safe and healthy, as well as socially, physically, and academically connected. Families in our community need affordable childcare options that can support their return to work to provide financially for their families.
The Whitin Community Center is truly committed to its community and we encourage our students to do the same. We offer health and wellness services and lead efforts to address community needs. The Rockdale Youth Center is located in the Rockdale section of Northbridge in a high-density low-income area to increase accessibility for children who need it most. Over the last year our students at the RYC have participated in support programs, or led events, geared towards support for our local veterans, residents at a local nursing care center, young adults who have aged out of the foster care system and are now entering college, Earth day neighborhood clean-up, and care packages for our local troops. Our students are engaged and committed members of our community who enjoy giving back and helping to lift others as well. Now, they need our help.
With this fundraising effort, it is our hope that we can address inequities that are likely worsening for low-income families in our community. The digital divide, the lack of time or knowledge by parents to help students with homework, and the economic strain on families with low income make learning even harder for those traditionally under-served. Our Rockdale Youth Center expanded hours and increased technology support will achieve the following outcomes:
1. We will reach our goal of providing safe, supervised academic support as a Learning Hub in partnership with the Northbridge Public Schools for at least 20 children (current capacity limits set by the Department of Early Education and Care, our licensor). We can care for up to 52 children if we can expand capacity and pay for additional staff.
2. We will provide a safe learning environment that meets all health and safety guidelines set forth by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Early Education and Care, and the Department of Public Health. We will accomplish this by working with our community partners at the Board of Health, Fire Department, and Police Department.
3. We will be able to offer this full day care option for families in need free of charge. We just need to secure funding to cover the deficit for staffing and technology costs through grants, individual contributions, and corporate donations.
4. We will see a decrease in the learning gap with some of our students who struggle academically.
5. We will work with our community partners to continue to provide social, emotional, food, health, economic, and other supports to children in our care and their families.
6. We will provide opportunities to the children in our care for athletics, arts, music, and other passions and joys that the children have through our partnerships, programs, and volunteers as it is safe to do so.
7. We will continue to encourage our students to lead and share their voices about issues that are important to them. We have worked with our students to do community meetings, letters, strictly controlled social media posts, and public service announcements with our local cable station.
Our hope is that disadvantaged youth can be supported as they learn and grow and that ultimately our community will be strengthened, one individual, one family at a time as a result.