PROFILES: Key’s Youth and Leaders Find the Strength to Reach Out | News

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Staying connected with young people and meeting the physical and emotional needs of adolescents has become even more vital during the pandemic.

Especially when they had to close the doors of the youth center often known as La Clé.

Executive Director Emily Fulton-Foley recalls, “We had no idea how big of a thing we were going to encounter with all of our country, our nation and our world.

The staff and volunteers of the nonprofit Northfield Union of Youth really needed to come together to help young people discover their own inner strength, personal resilience and ultimately strength. Members were discovering how to best navigate difficult life circumstances with online school learning, family life or the isolation and sometimes anxiety or depression associated with separation from close friends, classmates and sports and fun activities.

On March 13, 2020, the centre’s doors were closed by the state’s emergency order, although staff were available 24 hours a day for young people.

“It was the first time in 27 years that The Key had closed its doors, then we did a deep cleaning before spring break and we discussed how to serve the kids with food, accommodation and we. put together a plan in place, ”Fulton- says Foley.

“We have found ways to be safe, to deliver meals and educate children about food in and out, and to connect with our young people most in need,” she added.

A mother of two young boys, Fulton-Foley, 36, gave birth to another son last January and was on maternity leave when the pandemic came true. She returned to work before planning a meeting with the Youth Council to develop an action plan on how The Key and its members would navigate the pandemic.

The Key Youth Center remained closed in March and April 2020 until young people were allowed to return and socialize outside, so young men and women gathered in the backyard of the center of Sixth Street painted in bright, vivid colors that give off a graffiti art gallery vibe.

Some donors have donated funds to purchase a large, sturdy tent and weatherproof furniture so that young people can be warm and comfortable at outdoor gatherings. In August, young people could return indoors if they were fully masked.

“We have been fortunate to get grants related to COVID, and we have a wonderful philanthropic community that has supported us,” said Fulton-Foley, grateful to work at Northfield.

The need for such a youth center was even more evident than usual during the state of emergency, she said. “The need has always been there, but it was just showing itself in a bigger way now, and some of those parts were when the volunteers couldn’t come anymore and we weren’t allowed to have community meals anymore,” Fulton said- Foley.

The Northfield Rotary Club could not come and cook, and a church congregation could not visit or volunteer.

“Our volunteers started helping in different ways, like making masks and they started buying supplies at Sam’s Club because teens never stop eating,” Fulton-Foley said with a smile. “Food is such an important connecting element with children because we can kind of sit and talk and those elements continue to exist now. “

The Key is now fully open to serve up to 25 teenagers who wear masks indoors. The center is waiting for new air purifiers to help reduce the risk of illness. The grants requesting funds from the youth bank that enabled the purchase were written by the youth members.

“The young people were then able to learn how to distribute the grant funds and they were able to buy a new Keurig machine to make hot drinks outside and buy heaters for the outdoors,” said Fulton-Foley.

Staff and volunteers looked after and delivered 200 to 400 pounds of food to young people in all kinds of life situations with and away from their families.

“We had prepared meals and prepared foods and shelf-stable foods before and we were fortunate enough to partner with the Just Food Co-Op and the Community Action Center food shelf, and we had a lot donors we are grateful for, ”Fulton -Foley said.

Staff worked with young people to find out what was going on with unemployment, as many were out of work, ”she said.

Some young people have changed their work schedules and worked full time since their high school or college courses were taught online, and they found more flexibility in their schedules. Many needed extra income and decided to work full time as they found online classes to be more flexible. They have discovered the value of learning to adapt in life and that is invaluable, said Fulton-Foley.

“There was a lot of learning around that time,” she said.

Staff could not drive young people or enter their homes, even to help move furniture due to rules and public health concerns.

“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t the epicenter of an outbreak,” of COVID-19, she said.

But Key’s staff stayed in touch with the youngsters on cellphones to check in and see how life at home was progressing.

“I think in my role, listening to the needs of young people is more than hearing what their needs are, but it’s listening to how they want you to respond,” Fulton-Foley explained.

“We know how kids want us to respond, and that’s part of where we’re creative as adults and what works for us and works for them,” she said.

The restrictions around the pandemic and the protection of public health have allowed it to grow in its own flexibility. Fulton-Foley said that while she is a firm believer in work-life balance, the pandemic has repeatedly meant that she and staff have to work longer than the normal eight hours.

Asked about resilience and lessons learned, Fulton-Foley said it was about developing relationships and teaching young people how to build relationships. Personally, she took a crash course in juggling a budget, figuring out what she could reallocate to make sure the basics and children’s needs were met. Checking the mood and mental health of the young members was also a priority.

“We had to sort out the needs of the young people and see what makes the most sense,” she said.

Fulton-Foley expresses how proud she is of young people who have taken on leadership roles both at the center and in their own lives. Each young man and woman has grown emotionally in leaps and bounds, she said.

Bragging about all of his staff who have been able to come together and work as a team over the difficult last year, Fulton-Foley is a person half full of glasses, adding “We teach young people how to fill their own glasses and how to support each other. each other. . “

Young people learned about resilience, their own abilities and shortcomings, their potential and their willingness to speak up when they need something.

“They all have their own courageous and resilient stories, and when I look at resilience,” she said. “… I think one of the smartest and bravest things anyone can do is ask for help.”

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