The Salesian Family Youth Center has been open the majority of the time during this pandemic. It has been impressive to see the love from the staff and team members. They provide a safe place where children and young people could be. During the first months, the fear of getting sick paralyzed us all, but soon, we realized that our children and young people were suffering too. According to the Elsevier Public health Emergency Collection, COVID 19 has impacted children's mental health. "High rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic symptoms were identified among children."1
Understanding that our Salesian presence can impact the children and young people that we serve in the community, the Salesian Family Youth Center made some decisions, among them, the two most critical were: 1.- Extended our operational hours from 4 to 10 hours per day, with everything that this implies, example: manage staff schedules, provide food to all the children, improving the quality of internet, improving the sanitation of our facility and more! 2.- Started a mental health program for our team members (Staff), we realized that our staff needed to be well taken care of, to take care of our children. We signed a contract with an organization that provided mental health sessions to all of our staff once a month.
An essential part of what we have done to move forward is the outreach program. Luis Chacon, our Public Relations Specialist, reaches out to the community by walking around the neighborhood, recruiting donors and families who can be part of our Clubhouse, and take advantage of everything we have to offer.
Luis shared this story with us, "I was walking around Cesar Chavez (one of the busiest streets in Boyle Heights), and I found a lady with her son (no more than six years old) selling candy, cellphone chargers, among other things. I went to introduce myself and share about our Salesian Center. I shared with the child, who was next to his mother, all the activities we do at SFYC, the games (with social distance), workshops, and video games. I could see that he was getting excited, so I told his mom that she could take her son and his younger siblings to the club. Immediately the boy made a gesture of concern putting his hand on his forehead. He interrupted me and asked me if they could only take siblings. He wanted to bring his stepbrothers to SFYC. I smiled and said, everyone is welcome at the Salesian Family Youth Center".
This story is one example of many families who still don't know who the Salesians are and how we serve the community. This example has motivated us to continue our outreach strategy to bring children and young people to our Clubhouse. This story reminds me of when Don Bosco found Miguel Magone at the train station and how from that moment, Miguel Magone's life change forever. Let's continue being Don Bosco today.