Project Grow Family

In the Middle of a Pandemic: How Project Grow Evolved to Help Its Kids

Project Grow Family

Covid-19 may have significantly altered life as we know it, but it could not stop Project Grow. When the pandemic caused Adopt-A-Family to go remote, it meant that Grow staff could no longer see students face-to-face. However, the staff was determined to find creative ways to consistently invest in the lives of their kids.

Throughout the spring and summer, staff members pursued alternative means to provide the crucial wraparound services their kindergarten through fifth-grade students needed.  For the program’s students, who are formerly homeless and come from low-income backgrounds, delivering services that are proven, nuanced, and student-centered is of the utmost importance.

“Project Grow is working on building trust between the kids and the program and the people in it,” said Daron Morse, Director of Youth Educational Programs for Adopt-A-Family. “A consistent external support system is very helpful to them.”

An AAF client picks up food and supplies from AAF office in Lake Worth.

A client picks up food and supplies from the AAF office in Lake Worth.

Project Grow maintained contact with parents even when in-person interaction was untenable and discovered that an overwhelming majority experienced COVID-19-related job loss and food insecurity.

With summer approaching and pandemic-related summer camp closures mounting in the area, Adopt-A-Family recognized the importance of keeping the students engaged. In response, they designed a dynamic virtual summer camp.

Thanks to a generous program supporter, all 37 Project Grow families were provided with a new Chromebook so students could access online sessions.

While most virtual camps rely on prerecorded content, Project Grow upped the ante by designing a curriculum that featured live academic sessions and activities to foster student engagement.

Two Project Grow students participate in a virtual ballet class.

Two Project Grow students participate in a virtual camp ballet class.

Students took math and science classes and participated in poetry and art workshops. They also learned yoga, ballet, and computer coding.  Nature and wildlife sessions were provided by the Palm Beach Zoo, Florida Fishing Academy, and Gumbo Limbo.

Through it all, staff members wore many hats. Not only did they teach academic lessons, but they also administered technical assistance to parents and offered emotional support to the children. To help families experiencing job loss, Project Grow connected parents to job resources and opportunities for temporary financial assistance.

On Fridays, Project Grow staff handed out donated gourmet meals, snacks, toys, school supplies, and encouragement to students and parents while respecting social distancing protocols.

Project Grow family receives goods

Project Grow student Jonathan and his mother Rose Marie at a July food donation event held at the Lake Worth AAF office parking lot.

It was on those Fridays that teachers got to see their students face-to-face, which resulted in jubilant greetings and smiles. One Friday in July, 4th and 5th grade teacher Mr. Evan greeted a student named Jonathan and gave him some snacks and his mother a box of food.

The multitude of challenges posed by the pandemic revealed Project Grow’s malleability, innovation, and attentiveness in how it serves its students.

When the Palm Beach County School Board voted to postpone the start of the school year in late July, Project Grow extended its summer camp for four more weeks to ensure student enrichment was fostered until the first day of school.

“We don’t want a gap to occur where the kids lose practice in engaging with their peers and teachers, Ms. Daron said. “That’s a big step in a kid’s development.”

As part of a nationwide initiative funded by John S. and the James L. Knight Foundation, the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin counties (CFPBMC) spearheaded a discussion called “On the Table.” In October 2018, CFPBMC coordinated with local community partners who hosted in-person discussions on topics surrounding positive social change and exchanged ideas on actions that can make a difference in the community. Approximately 4,000 Palm Beach and Martin County residents participated in On the Table conversations. This initiative was a first of its kind for Palm Beach County and it allowed community residents, volunteers, and leaders to come together and examine the most pressing needs currently facing the community.   

After the On the Table discussions, participants were encouraged to fill out a survey. The report on the survey is very encouraging. It shows that 77% of On the Table participants feel that Palm Beach and Martin Counties have a strong sense of community. 73% feel that nonprofits and community organizations offer the most significant impacts on making the community a better place to live. The most conclusive response revealed by the survey is that an astounding 91% of participants expressed plans to take specific action regarding one of the issues or solutions they discussed during an On the Table discussion.  

 

77% of On the Table participants feel that Palm Beach and Martin Counties have a strong sense of community. Click To Tweet

You can read the full report here  

  

Adopt-A-Family looks forward to the positive impact of increased engagement, partnership, advocacy, grassroots organization, and multi-sector collaboration in our community that has been sparked by 2018’s On the Table. Thank you to the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties for coordinating this engaging event! 

Adopt-A-Family is excited to be a part of The City of West Palm Beach’s Clematis by Night Summer in Paradise event again this year! This year’s Summer in Paradise will feature fifteen child-size playhouses, collectively referred to as the “Fairy Tale Playhouses.” In partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County, the mini-homes will provide entertainment and shade to the smallest of waterfront visitors, all while raising awareness of affordable housing. Adopt-A-Family’s Fairy Tale Playhouse will take on the story of “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen and the playhouse will be designed and painted by local artist Freddy Hennevelt.

The first “unveiling” of the event will be held on June 7th, but other special for Clematis by Night series will be held all summer long! Come out and show your support to Adopt-A-Family and many other local nonprofits! We can’t wait to see you there.

For part two of our four part Great Give 2017 series highlighting Adopt-A-Family programming, we caught up with Director of Homeless Services, Nydia Sabugo-Marrou. Our second feature focuses on how emergency housing solutions provide a stable foundation for families in crisis.

What are common barriers faced by families entering Program REACH and the Lewis Center?

The common barriers of the families we serve are the following: they have very limited income, limited education, parents that may have been in the foster care system, and have experienced a plethora of traumatic events in their lives. Because of the significant trauma, many families come to us with additional mental health challenges on top of their experience with homelessness.

What are some key goals for families served in your programs?  

The first goal when we bring them here is to put a roof over their head. This starts with a hotel voucher or a referral to Program REACH. Our next goal is to obtain more stable and long-term housing solutions. The primary way we accomplish this is through Rapid Re-Housing. Another goal is to ensure we limit the amount of time each family spends being homeless. Once a family is housed, we provide referrals and other services offered by collaborative partners to help families grow.

Why is it so important that this work is possible in Palm Beach County? How is it making a difference? 

We begin with saying that everyone deserves a safe and stable place to stay.  Every child should know that when they come home from school, they have a space that is truly their own.  It’s important in this community and across the world. Shelter is a BASIC human need. – Nydia Sabugo-Marrou

 

From the perspective of the families you serve, what would you like the community to know (that they may not know) about the work that you do? 

The first thing that comes to my mind is to eradicate the stigma of homelessness. There are so many false stereotypes going around. I’d want to tell the community that so many of our community’s residents are just one paycheck away from homelessness. Anything that causes you to miss work could put you in the same predicament of so many of our families. We have families that are doing their best – some even working two part-time jobs and still having a  difficult time to afford rents in this county.

It’s truly an uphill battle. However, with the supportive services provided by Adopt-A-Family and our partners, we’re able to see great successes.

What makes your job so meaningful? 

The most meaningful aspect of my work is giving families a place to stay when they otherwise wouldn’t have a home. I’ll never forget one mother saying, “I can finally cook. I can make a meal for my family.” Click To Tweet Simple things like cooking that we take as an everyday luxury is simply not a reality for struggling families in our community.

Thank you for sharing this insight Nydia!


Our 2017 Great Give mission statement: Housing stability creates opportunities for our families. When you give with your heart during this year’s Great Give, our families and children will thrive. We can only impact the lives of families with you. Create the opportunity for our families and children to grow.  #GiveAAF17 during the Great Give. 

This blog is part two of an ongoing series that aims to give our community a closer look at the programming they will directly support during this year’s Great Give. Stay tuned for additional features on our self-sufficiency programming and educational programming. Throughout the campaign, you will also hear straight from our families on how their lives have been impacted by Adopt-A-Family. To view our Great Give fundraising page, click the logo below. To help share this feature, please click the Twitter or Facebook share icons below.