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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Apr. 29, 2020 5 months ago

Boys & Girls Clubs takes the fun, education online

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The organization has put together its Cyber Clubhouse as a virtual place for members to learn and have fun.
by: Troy Herring Sports Editor

Dewitt Lewis’ life is in a weird place.

Like most, Lewis — the service director at the West Orange Boys & Girls Club in Winter Garden — is stuck at home because of the coronavirus pandemic and is physically prevented from being around the kids he is so used to seeing in person.

Luckily for Lewis and those who are a part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, there’s a new option. The organization calls it the Cyber Clubhouse — an all-virtual curriculum and place of fun and learning.

“We’re doing normal plans in there, but we just modify it,” Lewis said. “I think that’s what makes us great as an organization is that we can kind of roll with the punches — though this is a huge punch. But we are able to adapt and we’re also able to check in on each other.”

When the organization’s physical facilities were closed March 17, leaders knew something had to be done — quickly. Six days later, the organization had its new online program up and running.

A big focus on the site is offering an open-ended, age-appropriate resource for children and their families. The first week was all about getting that section up and running, said Betsy Owens, vice president of marketing and community relations for Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida.

“I spent that weekend combing the internet looking for good stuff and helping to kind of set up that first week’s curriculum,” Owens said. “Since then, our operations team have taken over. All of the staff helped to get us some links, but they were still in the clubs cleaning, and we didn’t know until the day before we closed down that we were going to be closing. So we turned it around pretty quickly.”

“We’re doing normal plans in there, but we just modify it. I think that’s what makes us great as an organization is that we can kind of roll with the punches — though this is a huge punch. But we are able to adapt and we’re also able to check in on each other.”

— Dewitt Lewis, service director at the West Orange Boys & Girls Club in Winter Garden

The different activities offered on the website are divided into two different age groups — K-5 and middle through high school. 

Each day’s programming starts with a special greeting from staff around the organization’s Central Florida locations and then continues with a plethora of activities that range from academic to arts to lifestyle programs.

With schools going to virtual only for the rest of the school year, these kinds of programs are compatible with helping children grow and develop, said Gary Cain, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida.

“One of the great things today for children — although they often times don’t know it — is the amount of learning opportunities there are,” Cain said. “I always like to use khanacademy.org. You can go on if you’re studying algebra. …  You can literally get eight-minute YouTube videos that are very clear that walk you through that.

“There’s a world of content available to children and adults that can increase their skills and help them get through challenges and problems,” he said.

Of the programs being offered, few may be more popular than the Zoom calls between club members and staff.

Between Monday and Friday, for an hour or two each day, Lewis jumps into the Zoom video conference program with his club members — alongside another staff member and their members from another location — where they enjoy a number of activities, Lewis said.

Although it is not the same as being able to see one another in person, that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the time with one another.

“We’re having fun; we’re playing games,” Lewis said. “The great thing is that we are able to share our screens, so the kids on their iPads — or whatever devices they have — they’re able to see what we are looking at. We give them information and they give us feedback on what’s going on by raising their hand — it’s basically like just being a club, except it’s through a screen.”

Troy Herring is the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Mount Olive (BS '12) and the University of Alabama (MA '16)....

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