Beginning the last week of August, we welcomed children back inside our building! We were excited to open our doors to support them again, although that support looks very different this fall semester. We did not start with our afterschool program, but rather have opened during the day for what would normally be “in school” hours. With stringent protocols in place, we did a quick redesign of classroom space and turned our cafeteria and gym into virtual learning environments. For the first nine weeks our District is 100% virtual, and our priority is making sure children have a place to engage. This gives us the ability to have our teachers and staff wrap around them - helping the little ones connect, dealing with technical issues of machines and communication, and serving as a liaison between school and student.
I have been so impressed with our school district. We have daily calls to and from teachers and principals, sharing specific needs of students or problems with technology. CAC staff are able to increase engagement and accountability, provide additional educational support, and offer tutoring and encouragement. During down times, we have recreation and creative arts while serving breakfast and hot lunches. Our foreign language, entrepreneurial, and STEM students continue virtual classes - carrying over from this past spring and summer. It is highly likely that the next two quarters will again be virtual, fully or in part; so for the foreseeable future, this will remain the model around which we build the school year. If everyone in this region will continue to wear masks and practice social distancing, restrictions will begin to lift and we will be able to expand both our number of students and extend hours back into the evening.
I realize that our communication from our last update until now has been limited. For that, I apologize. The effects of the pandemic in our community were immediate on every level. The needs around us were urgent, and making decisions with ever changing information was not easy. Families and children needed more support than ever, but doing that unwisely could have life or death consequences. For the first time in 30 years, our building closed to the public. Nonetheless, from day one, we have been nonstop. We made decisions, mobilized, and assembled a plan. We are grateful for the many people, foundations, churches, and civic groups who have kept us here every day. Thanks to you, we have continued to serve families and our children through these difficult days.
Here is what you allowed us to accomplish:
From the first day of “shelter in place” and school closures, CAC was a site for breakfast and lunch distribution. Over the next 100 days, we served 27,000 meals. We are grateful to District 189 for allowing us to serve not only children, but also adults in our community.
Thanks to the St. Louis Community Foundation, United Way, and others, we received funding to assist with housing insecurity. With the magnitude of job loss, these funds helped us to help lift uncertainty and anxiety around the possibility of losing a place to live. We were able pay all past due and current rent payments for all of our families from May, June, and July. Other funding helped us keep our families current with utilities during this time, with a special “thanks” to one of our longtime partner agencies, Crisis Nursery of St. Louis, who supplied staff support with their funding as well.
With the closure of schools in the spring, we pivoted to help encourage and engage students in the world of virtual learning. Tragically, a significant percentage of children in our district were unable to be online for many reasons, and we have spent a great deal of time trying to make sure they were ready for the fall. For those who were able to connect to the internet, we provided 750 hours of scheduled time for homework assistance, tutoring, and the continuation of CAC programming – language, entrepreneurship, and STEM classes in particular. We had students closing in on opportunities that we did not want them to lose during this crisis – for example, the two students who earned their way into a semester of overseas language immersion. Another one of our students was selected to serve (and still serves) on the Federal Reserve Student Board of Directors. Our Young Entrepreneurs still needed to move forward with business, and it is important to keep them and all of our students on track.
Most of the summer, we did not know whether children would start the fall semester in person. With this uncertainty, we decided to proceed with our 31st Annual Back-to-School event in August. While we did not host the usual events around distribution day, thanks to church and corporate supporters, we did serve 140 families with backpacks containing school supplies and uniforms. 300 backpacks were distributed and 240 children received the necessary uniforms. We reserved additional supplies and uniforms in anticipation of schools fully opening at some point within this academic year.
There is always much more to say, and God is working in many ways at CAC. Through the years, we have tried to be an example of what it looks like for people to work for justice, while calling attention to our God given mandate to care for those whose lives are adversely affected by the many faces of injustice. It is shameful to me that it takes a pandemic and a public execution to make inequity and inequality a national debate. For those of us who profess faith, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are still true 57 years later:
“There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo…”
We no longer have the luxury of defending the status quo – which is most often done through inaction and silence. The whole earth “groans for the salvation of God.” The earth we are gifted and its inhabitants – all created in the image of God and loved by God– are our responsibility to love as well.
Thank you for loving the children of CAC and for walking with us through the years. May the peace of God surround your hearts and minds!