As Boston area children head back to school under very different circumstances, Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) continues to deliver critical services this fall to thousands of youth in the Greater Boston Area. Taking the lessons they learned from running 11 virtual summer camps, PBHA staff and volunteers are working with public schools and after-school programs to provide academic and social emotional support services to local youth.

PBHA has a long history of working with vulnerable populations, and have sustained the ongoing commitment from students, staff, and volunteers during the pandemic to support virtual learning.

Staff members, student leaders, and PBHA alumni volunteers individually programmed iPads and Google Chromebooks for every camper.  They made home deliveries to campers along with wellness kits, and academic and art supplies.

Led by 100 college student directors and senior counselors, and 70 local high school student junior counselors, campers ranging in ages from 5-19 learned in Zoom classrooms for five weeks of camp. Attendance for campers exceeded 90 percent  and more than 100 camper families were directly supported with food security needs.

Campers and guardians shared that the new format particularly connected with students who struggled with distance learning in the late spring. With an intention of not being on Zoom all day, counselors led campers in time away from screens, encouraging them to create chalk drawings, build zoology habitats after learning about animals, and pursue themed art projects and return back to Zoom to present to their classmates and senior counselors. Campers participated in book clubs and special interest clubs and many camps started the day with guided yoga.

A key part of PBHA’s youth programs involve guidance in social and emotional learning. Counselors shared how important the topic was this year and how they were able to present on mental health and emotions to campers. Fahedur Fahed ‘22, a director for the Cambridge Youth Enrichment Program said, “You can talk about your feelings at any age and be equipped with the tools to deal with whatever you may be going through. That was really special to see, having mental health at the forefront starting from a young age.”

PBHA is reimagining fall programming by staying true to their mission of being present for the communities they serve. “Our goal and commitment to be there for our families remains the same,” PBHA President Meherina Khan ‘21 said. “In these times where so much is changing, I believe that opportunities for students to creatively meet critical needs and gaps in resources, promote social awareness, and advocate for structural change feels even more resonant.”

There are dozens of opportunities for current students to serve with PBHA this fall in mentorship, adult services, advocacy, and after-school service areas as more than 40 programs are running with new remote service plans. Learn more and sign up to serve at pbha.org.