Maryland is launching “Project Bounce Back,” an effort to help kids recover from the stress and isolation of the coronavirus pandemic, funded by $25 million in federal aid.
Gov. Larry Hogan visited a Boys & Girls Club in West Baltimore Thursday to announce the initiative to help young people recover from the “devastating” impacts of the pandemic, challenges that he said could have lasting effects on children.
Hogan said that such challenges, categorized as “adverse childhood experiences” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, could affect a child’s sense of safety and stability. They’re also linked to health problems, mental illness and substance abuse in adulthood, and can hinder job opportunities later in life, Hogan said.
“As a governor, and also as a father and grandfather, nothing breaks my heart more than to see” Maryland’s youth suffer over the past year, Hogan said.
The pandemic “has been perhaps most difficult for our children,” the Republican governor said. “The uncertainty and isolation of the last year, combined with prolonged school closures, has been devastating for their emotional health, educational progress and developmental well-being.”
Project Bounce Back will rely on a public-private partnership between state education and crime prevention agencies, the Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs of Maryland and a series of private businesses to provide a “critical support network” for children and families, Hogan said at the Webster Kendrick Boys & Girls Club.
The initiative will expand Boys & Girls Clubs of Maryland to every jurisdiction in the state with hope of reaching 45,000 youths, emphasizing low-income school districts and rural areas, and create a mentorship program with Maryland State Police to bolster police-community relations, Hogan said.
Jeff Breslin, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Baltimore, said the influx of funding will help the clubs expand their services, including summer camps, “club on the go” buses and fun programs “so kids can just be kids.”
In Baltimore, the 600 kids who attend Boys & Girls Club programs have experienced a gamut of challenges in the pandemic, ranging from the deaths of family members to isolation from classmates, Breslin said.
“Our job is to be that family away from family and give them that loving home that they need,” he said.
Boys & Girls Clubs have been open since last April, first serving children of essential workers, then gradually expanding to serve more children as health restrictions evolved. They’ve supported children in their virtual learning and now serve children in after-school programs, as many again receive in-person instruction in their classrooms.
Breslin said the clubs will use the additional federal funding to leverage financial support from other sources, so that the expansion of services isn’t short-lived.
“This is not a one-year fix” he said. “This is a long-term proposition.”
Project Bounce Back also will see the state’s Department of Education deploy six regional “health crisis teams,” consisting of counselors, psychologists and other experts, to work with schools to provide “on-the-ground crisis and technical assistance,” Hogan said. Working with private partners, the project will unroll a new technology for nonprofit organizations to provide better services and job development skills.
“There are far too many kids that are struggling right now,” Hogan said. “I want each and every one of you to know that help is on the way.”
The governor got a taste of what goes on at Boys & Girls Clubs after the formal program, when he sat at a table with two young boys and made a circuit using wires and magnetic play dough. The governor told the boys that while he’d played with play dough plenty of times before, he’d never used a magnetic version.