How The Bay is Building Community Through COVID-19

 In Voices of Young People

With social distancing parameters in place across the United States, nonprofit organizations serving youth and young adults have had to find creative ways to engage and connect with the young people who would typically participate in their on-site programs. Challenges for gathering in person through the coronavirus pandemic have been met with a variety of responses from leadership hard-pressed to find solutions for their organization, but one youth center we spoke with in late spring found a way to adjust their services and programs while still keeping their participants safe.

The Bay, a self-described “home for misfits” in Lincoln, Nebraska, hosts the only public, indoor skate park in Nebraska, a digital art/media lab, an all-ages performance venue, community meeting spaces, an emergency food pantry, and the Goldenrod Café, all in their 20,000-square-foot warehouse. Their mission, as stated on their website, is to “provide economically and culturally disadvantaged youth with the belonging and purpose they need to grow and reinvest in their community.”

In partnership with Lincoln Public Schools, The Bay has been working since 2010 to provide young people ages 8 to 18 “a safe place to go, people who care, and something to do.” And their programs “aim to help young people dream bigger.” Typically, they are open 7 days a week, with weekday hours stretching until 10 p.m. and weekends until midnight, holding after-school programs, a skate school every Saturday, and camps over spring, fall, and winter breaks. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all on-site programming at The Bay, including skate, digital art, and music-related activities, have been suspended.

Lauren Farris, The Bay’s arts manager, said COVID-19 has made social distancing requirements vitally important and changed how things work at The Bay. But despite suspending all on-site programming, they have found a way to continue connecting with young people by shifting their programs to an online remote learning platform called Flipgrid.

Flipgrid, a Microsoft-run website and app, allows youth to record video responses to topics and activities posted by The Bay. When young people post a response, The Bay’s staff and volunteers, as well as other youth participants, can reply. Through this innovative approach, The Bay continues to offer lessons and activities in music, skateboarding, art, and wellness.

Participants in the digital arts lab at The Bay in Lincoln, NE creating on-site in a pre-COVID era. Photos provided by Lauren Farris, Arts Manager at The Bay.

Along with Flipgrid, the team at The Bay reaches out to their members one-on-one to make sure they are doing alright. The young people they work with are important to them, so they are not letting COVID-19 halt their relationship-building efforts. Springtide conducted a Social Distance Study in April 2020, which found that young people are feeling uncertain and scared about this season of upheaval. Our Belonging report found one of the most important ways to mitigate young people’s experiences of loneliness is for trusted adults to reach out and connect with young people, so these intentional check-ins with their youth members can have an enormous impact.

It’s a bummer that we had to stop what we were doing so abruptly and pivot to online programming, but at the end of the day, our kids and families are what matter, so we are doing everything we can to keep connected,” Farris said. “We keep saying over and over again, ‘You can’t cancel community.’ That’s the mentality that has been driving us.

This investment in community means the concerts normally offered to young people in person at their performance venue are now available via livestreaming. Farris says they hope to have a “front porch” concert series sometime soon with 6-feet social distancing guidelines kept in place.

The Bay also continues to address the various economic needs in their local community by providing food staples and grocery store gift cards to young people and their families facing hardships during this time.

With core values including “Dream Differently, Celebrate Each Other, Honor Relationships, Solutions Not Problems, People Over Policy, and It’s Supposed to Be Fun,” it’s clear that The Bay’s solution-not-problems approach has allowed them to still dream of and enact new ways of relating and building relationships through the coronavirus pandemic.

To learn more about the ways companies and organizations have been shifting their strategy during COVID-19 to meet new needs for young people in new ways, check out Meaning Making: 8 Values That Drive America’s Newest Generations. Or for a deeper dive into the lived experiences of young people during social distancing and sheltering in place, check out our At Home Creativity Campaign, featured on the Springtide blog.

Sarah Ruff was a spring 2020 community engagement intern with Springtide. She graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a double major in journalism and advertising/public relations.

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