For my neighborhood tour project, I wanted to focus on the Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis, specifically the Keenan Stahl Unit where I have been working at for the last couple of years. I live about 10 minutes away from the Boys and Girls Club and I wanted to focus on it because this is where I have experienced the most changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. I also think it is important to recognize how the pandemic has affected non-profits and those who they serve. The Club’s mission has always been to serve the people in the community who are the most vulnerable. The Pandemic not only hit the most vulnerable the hardest but disabled the Club and other non-profits alike to be able to assist them.
For the project I first observed the community around the Boys and Girls Club. Just on Troy Avenue which the Club is on there are over 20 used car lots and car repair shops. Some of them look abandoned upon first look, with boarded up windows and the outside falling apart yet they are actually in business. I was surprised by how many used car lots and car repair shops there are in the area and wonder if there is a correlation between this and low-income communities. While I was not able to find anything online, I wonder if it is something to do with being able to operate by quick cash transactions, no credit checks, and possibly preying on those economically disadvantaged. It is more likely for car dealerships with new cars to be placed in higher income areas than lower income areas as well. Aside from the used car lots and car repair shops in the area there are several run-down businesses and abandoned boarded up houses. Most of the Club members live down the street from the Club and there have members in the past who have lived in the abandoned houses near the Club with their family.
When I had first started at the Boys and Girls Club it was not abnormal for me to have more members with me than I had chairs in the classroom. The Club would see an average of 230 members a day from ages 5 to 18. When COVID-19 hit Indianapolis and businesses and institutions were ordered to shut-down, the Club closed and all part-time staff including myself were laid off. After a few weeks of collecting unemployment, we began to program on Zoom with a few members who needed homework help and stayed for our actual programs. In June we opened up to summer programming but had to cap the numbers to follow the COVID-19 guidelines. Now after a year of the pandemic hitting, we only see around 45 members a day compared to the 230 we used to see.
Aside from the change in number of members our operations have changed as well. Parents used to come in to pick their children up but now have to stay outside in their car and call the Club for us to walk them out. Each classroom has a cleaning log to fill out after every rotation noting the time and writing our signature to confirm that all materials, chairs, tables, bookshelves, windows, walls, door handles, light switches, and trash have been cleaned and taken care of. Everyone in the club also has their temperature taken and recorded upon entering the Club. Staff members also have to fill out a questionnaire about whether we have had symptoms, traveled, or been exposed to COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Each member also has their own Club backpacks filled with materials that are supposed to serve as an alternative to sharing materials. However, the reality is most backpacks are filled with trash and maybe a few pencils and a few markers that have been able to survive the school year.
To give more information about the members, 100% of members enrolled at the Club are classified as economically disadvantaged. In an article called “Eviction, Health Inequity, and the Spread of COVID-19: Housing Policy as a Primary Pandemic Mitigation Strategy,” the author Emily Benfer stated that the pandemic precipitated a huge job loss and economic hardship especially among people of color and low-income populations who were already economically marginalized and experiencing housing precarity prior to the pandemic. I wondered what this meant for those who were already there. Based on 119 members, the number higher because we were able to accept more a few weeks ago, 35 members (29.41%) have an annual household income of $0 to $15,000. Another 18 members (15.13%) have an annual household income of $25,001 to $30,000 and 19 members (15.97%) have an annual household income of $35,001 – $40,000. When I had ran a report on the annual household income for 2018-2019, 54 members enrolled at that time fell in the category of $0 to $5,000 a year. Not all of these members were able to come back to Club and thinking about the members in general I wondered and worried how they were. The Club was a safe place for them after school, especially the teens who we worried about on the weekend. We provided dinner for them, the last meal some teens would have before lunch the next day at school, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and gifts, winter coat and clothes drives, stability, and structure. When the Club was lost, the members lost this and only 45 members have been able to slowly get it back. I wondered if they were hungry, bored, getting their homework down, and okay in general.
The Club has a program for what we call “ERC Members” which are teens who have gotten arrested and as part of their probation join the Club to serve their community service. Once on a Friday one of them walked by my classroom to say good-bye and I simply said, “have a good weekend, stay out of the trouble.” A few days after he thanked me for the advice and said not a lot of people around him want to see him do right, so my comment meant a lot. I was confused at first because I was not sure what advice he was talking about until I remembered what I had said to him in passing. To me it was no big deal, but this shows how the smallest things said and done at the Club can make a big difference for the members who we serve.
When the schools in Indianapolis closed the Club changed its operations to work as an E-learning hub from 8am to 6pm. Each grade level was separated in different areas with staff members to guide and help them through their online classes and class assignments. I had the kindergartners and it proved harder than anyone initially thought it was. By the time that teachers were sending out messages about the students needing to read individually soon, I had members who did not know their ABC’s, numbers, how to write their name, and even hold a pencil. One member came in with over 50 late assignments. It represented millions of students around the US who were being left behind. Left behind by the system even before the pandemic, but even worse now. In “Invisible mother,” Lindsay Donaldson discusses how schools expected someone to be there to help home school the students, but the mother, father, grandmother, etc in this situation cannot always be there to do that. The ones whose parents’ first language is not English, those with a single parent or parents who work all day or all night, the ones without a quiet space in their house, and those without access to the internet. These types of students are already the ones that are commonly falling through the cracks even when school is in-person. This method of E- learning was only sending them farther down the hole. Fortunately, there is an organization that is going to be at the Clubs this summer to help catch up the students and hopefully fill in the gaps of what they may have missed due to E-learning.
In conclusion, the Club will continue to serve those in the community and adapt to the changes that COVID-19 continues to bring. Some operational differences will remain like continuing to clean our classrooms more thoroughly and have parents pick up members outside. I am not sure where the number of members in attendance will go from here or if I will ever see some of my kids from last year again, but it is something to think about. When something as big of a pandemic shuts down the whole world and makes those who were moving through life just fine, struggle, what happens to those who were already struggling, getting let down and forgotten by the system even more.
Benfer, E.A., Vlahov, D., Long, M.Y. et al. (2021) Eviction, Health Inequity, and the Spread of COVID-19: Housing Policy as a Primary Pandemic Mitigation Strategy. J Urban Health (98),2. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-020-00502-1
Donaldson, L. (2020, May 11). Covid-19, (In)visible Mothers, and the State. Society for Cultural Anthropology. https://culanth.org/fieldsights/covid-19-invisible-mothers-and-the-state