The West Side Commons
is a partnership of
The DOME Project and Strycker’s Bay Neighborhood Council
While 2020 has delivered many challenges, we are proud to say The West Side Commons remains standing strong for our community, providing a safety net for youth and their families during moments of crisis and beyond. This year we worked hard to continue connecting our constituents with opportunities to improve the quality of their lives by offering access to resources and tools required to address their most pressing problems. The impact of the unprecedented economic and health crisis resulting from COVID-19 means our programs faced an uncertain future. However, we have remained committed to meeting the needs of young people in our community and quickly shifted to providing remote opportunities for our participants. We also began building our capacity to offer more advanced technological solutions to service provision in the coming months. As of today we are continuing to work, as best we can, by providing remote programming options for everyone who requires services at this time. We are also taking action to secure funds, ensure service continuity throughout the current public health crisis, and fully reopen the center as soon as possible.
Virtual after school, youth development and housing/social service programming have continued. We call parents and children each weekday to see if they need assistance with access to DOE’s online classrooms and reminding our kids how important it is to log into their online learning platform. We also provide homework help and serve as a community information hub for parents and the neighborhood at large. Our Youth Program Director/MSW has developed online group activities for children utilizing Google Classroom technology. We continue to provide housing and social service counseling and assistance funded by HPD, DHCR, and HUD. We have also worked to overhaul our community space at The Commons with enhanced technology, physical improvements, and implementation of new plans to comply with social distancing requirements and ensure safety measures are in place.
As always—and now more than ever as we face these challenging times together—neighborhood is a critical factor in reaching the goals we seek to achieve.
Since some elementary school students have returned to school full time, after school programs at The Commons will once again be open on 1/4/2021.
In recent months, we have been working to ensure we’re prepared with the physical space adaptations, tools, and technology needed for comprehensive site-based and remote learning options. We installed a new air cooling system to improve air quality in the center and enhanced wireless technology to support virtual services. Our teens spent the summer painting the entire space, stripping and waxing floors, and deep cleaning every inch. NYCHA rebuilt walls in some rooms and we’ve readied the space to accommodate new furniture and equipment to support social distancing.
For educational programs, responding to the impact of COVID-19 through an educational equity lens starts by recognizing that vulnerable students, such as the low-income students from communities of color who are served by our programs, are at particular risk when schools close for any length of time, summer camp programs such as ours are unable to open, and budgets are slashed, resulting in measures like cancellation of the Summer Youth Employment Program. Educators, parents, and students know firsthand the high cost of this prolonged period of remote learning, from rising rates of depression and anxiety to the loss of student learning. Of course, the idea that over the summer students forget some of what they learned in school isn’t new. However, there’s a big difference between summer learning loss and pandemic-related learning loss. During the summer, formal schooling stops, and learning loss happens at roughly the same rate for all students. But instruction has been uneven during the pandemic, as some students have been able to participate fully in online learning while others have faced obstacles—such as lack of internet access—that have hindered their progress.
Loss of social connections is another risk factor in the healthy development of our young people. There is evidence that children and young people who experience prolonged periods of isolation might be as much as three times more likely to develop depression in the future. Our after school team remains connected with children through online one-on-one tutoring sessions, care packages, and handwritten letters letting them know we are here for them and can’t wait to see them again. Community connections have been a challenge during this time but we are using every tool at our disposal.
The pandemic is disproportionately affecting New York’s low-income and immigrant families of color, due primarily to glaring racial inequities rooted in systems and policies that leave these communities with limited capacity and systemic support to deal with this crisis. There are significant disparities in risk of exposure, economic impact, and the effects of
school closures, and many are negatively affected by the loss of wraparound supports and exacerbated food insecurity. Our immediate conversion to virtual programming allowed us to get PPE supplies to families and meals delivered to seniors who are homebound. NYCHA supplied us with thousands of masks to distribute to the community and our staff trained in the City’s Central Covid-19 Food Response Team to enroll those in need of food.
Our after school partner The Trinity School organized a holiday toy drive for The Commons and collected dozens of brand new games and gifts. Science kits, sports and arts supplies, and fun games were donated to the children of our program. Teens of The West Side Commons wrapped and distributed just before the Christmas Holiday.
We are so grateful for the opportunity to give each child a special surprise and bring more holiday joy into their lives during this challenging time. A special thank you goes out to Dr. Sarah Bennison, Director of Public Service, and Kim Vinnakota, Public Service Coordinator at The Trinity School. Check out all the good work The Trinity School students are doing in the community–follow their program on Instagram @trinity_changemakers.
The necessary trend of remote programming provides an opportunity to develop new methods of virtual and in person service delivery that will meet the needs of families and students during these uncertain times.
New technological approaches to service provision will help ensure students are able to make up for the lost academic time this school year as well as prevent the more common loss of academic skills and knowledge experienced by many students over the course of the typical summer break. The Commons has been working with Tech Soup and Tapp Network to develop and launch a new website to make it easier for the community to connect to us virtually—we hope to launch in February. Everyone will eventually be able to communicate with staff via the website, request services, download forms for our programs, and submit documents to our office. This upgrade was prompted by COVID and will help ensure we have minimal interruption and continuity of services in case of emergencies and other events that may interfere with office visits.
The pandemic has really tested our resilience. The closing of schools and businesses in March, the shutdown of the city in April, joblessness, fear of eviction and food insecurity, hospitalization, and the loss of loved ones have affected all of us.
Everyone’s lives have been disrupted and ongoing challenges in trying to remain physically and mentally healthy have been stressful to say the least. Being impacted by this invisible and unpredictable disaster while running a small nonprofit has been challenging and continuing to do so with any hope for success sometimes seemed impossible. Fortunately, our hopes for meeting organizational and community needs became a reality as we were able to secure support through various federal funding sources to keep our virtual doors open and our services and support available to the neighborhood. Our plans moving forward include strengthening our ability to operate during the pandemic and continuing to create a safe space with resources to support children while meeting safety measures when we return to regular operations. We are also developing ways to support the social and emotional challenges children may face upon their return to their daily school and after school schedules.
City Council Member Helen Rosenthal
NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development
NYC Department of Youth and Community Development
NYC Department For The Aging
NYS Housing and Community Renewal
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
Rona Jaffe Foundation
The Rudin Foundation
West End Collegiate Church
West Side Children’s Fund
Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan
US Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Trinity School
Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School
New York City Housing Authority
If you would like to support our work in the new year, please use the button above. If you prefer to send a check, please make payable to: Strycker’s Bay Neighborhood Council. Send to 105 West 86th Street #323, NYC NY 10024.
Your donations will help us continue providing high-quality, free after school and summer camp programming, eviction prevention services, and support for families facing food insecurity. Working together, we can bring hope and help to our community.