A message from Owen Charters, President & CEO, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. Full transcript below.
To all of you who are part of the Boys & Girls Clubs family,
These are extraordinary times. We have not seen such drastic social measures to mobilize populations around the globe since the Second World War. The threat that coronavirus COVID-19 poses to all of us is not on the same scale as that war, but for some it is a life or death crisis—and together we must confront it.
As much as they are needed, the social isolation measures put in place to combat this threat are having a significant impact across the country. Many Club staff are not working right now—laid off and in the hands of the government employment insurance program. Many parents are without child care options for their children, even as these same parents must work to earn an income, or serve on the front lines as health care workers, emergency service personnel, or vital community decision-makers and leaders, or work in grocery or vital retail, including pharmacies and gas stations. Kids are in vulnerable situations now, and unfortunately most of our Club doors are not open to welcome them to a safe place.
Not being able to do our jobs cuts to the very nature of who we are—if you work in a Club, you work to serve. Your professional and personal identity is tied to serving your community, from the children, youth, and families you see every day to the broader community that depends on the vital services you provide.
As we shut down to observe social distancing protocols, that purpose and focus is taken away. We may be providing some essential services, but it is not the same as the daily routine that we now miss—especially the stampede when we open Club doors at 3 pm.
There is enormous anxiety about the health risks of being exposed to coronavirus, and this has been exacerbated by the concerns we have about our Clubs, and our futures. Our finances, our jobs, supporting our families—we don’t know what the future holds or how long can we sustain this shutdown.
I am concerned—I need to be honest and admit that I too am experiencing the anxiety that we each share now. I’m worried about the future of our Clubs. We need to be able to respond to community needs. We need to be there as the economy comes back after this period of isolation. We know that the children and youth who visit our Clubs need us and will need us even more down the road—in fact, I predict more families will need our support as their own economic future is compromised.
To that end, we are asking governments at all levels to provide support to our Clubs—support that goes beyond employment insurance top-ups. We need help to get Clubs started up again, whenever that is. We need to get food and essential services to Club families today. The economic supports we have heard from governments so far are not enough. We are asking for more direct assistance for the work we do—it is critical in these times.
We are also asking our corporate and community partners to step up and help Clubs with an emergency relief fund. Already, we have seen significant support, with Coca-Cola leading the way. We are working very quickly to get these funds out to you in a process that is fair and equitable.
We are working with other national children and youth agencies, including the YMCA and KidsHelpPhone. We will have a special keyword to share with children and youth from our Clubs who reach out to KidsHelpPhone to ensure we can get them the emotional support they need. I have spoken with the CEOs of both organizations to share and align our asks of government and to emphasize the importance of our work in this difficult time.
I know you need support—you need legal advice, emotional support. You need funds. You need certainty about the future. In all these respects, please know that we are doing everything we can.
I am immensely proud of how my national team colleagues have responded to this crisis. They have been working tirelessly around the clock, often with young kids underfoot, to do whatever is needed. Our board is also behind you as we navigate our way through this.
And I am overwhelmed by the resilience and spirit that all of you at our Clubs are demonstrating in the face of this crisis. You are central to your communities and you are doing incredible, difficult work and making extraordinary, difficult decisions.
I have heard endless stories of Clubs being creative to help their communities—setting up no-contact food drops using Club and staff vehicles, drive-through food pick-ups in parking lots, hotlines for children and youth experiencing anxiety, virtual meetings for Club members.
Thank you—you are living our mission and core values. Belonging, Respect, Encouragement & Support, Working Together, and Speaking Out could not be more vital than at a time like this. These are not just the values that we instill in the kids we serve—they are the values that bring us together in times of crisis.
Together, we’re doing what we need to do—and we will continue to live our mission and provide the best possible support for the children, youth, and families we serve.