News Updates

MDOC Takes a New Approach for Back-To-School in 2020

Published on September 3rd, 2020 in Fair Share Housing Development

What do families do when they’ve been apart for a while? They have a Reunion!
By Kaitlyn DeVeydt, Education and Recreation Coordinator

In July 2020, I returned to Camden, NJ to finish out my year of service as a Jesuit Volunteer after spending nearly five months quarantining with my family in Indiana.

I knew I’d be returning to in-person work, but what I was returning to was vastly different from the world of the Margaret Donnelly O’Connor Education Center that I’d left in March. There was no Summer Program, Mr. Scott had already left for Medical School, the Center wasn’t open to kids, and there were going to be daily wellness checks to screen for COVID-19.

While it was wonderful seeing Mr. Mike, Ms. Chantel, and the other staff, it became increasingly obvious that we needed to plan a socially distant event ASAP. Aside from phone calls and Zoom drop-ins, we’d had minimal contact with our families for almost five months!

What were their needs? What could we offer virtually and safely that would be supportive? What about school? And the upcoming elections? And just general life updates? The list of questions seemed endless, so staff buckled down and began planning our first event during a worldwide pandemic.

We decided to host a Reunion Event because Ethel R Lawrence Homes is more than affordable housing — it’s a community, it’s a family. And what do families do when they’ve been apart for a while? They have a Reunion!

From Monday, August 31st through Thursday, September 3rd, Margaret Donnelly O’Connor Education Center staff, including two new Jesuit Volunteers who’d only started the Wednesday before, held socially distant drop-in times from 11 am to 2 pm and 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm. This was a LONG WEEK, but it felt so good to see so many friends and residents who’ve become family.

We barbequed all day, had mandated times for each court in the ERLH development, took wellness check-ins of every attendee, signed families up for Virtual Homework Club and tutoring, and began registering people to vote!

It was so hard not to squeeze every single kid or shake every resident’s hand, but even just seeing everyone again reminded me why I love working here so much. The Reunion Event was a slow-boiling success: we had nearly 30 families stop by on our last day alone and we got to meet residents living over at Robinson Estates whom we’d never met before. While the days were long, hot, and often slow, they cooled into busier summer evenings full of hotdogs, laughter, and good conversation (even 6 feet apart!). Kids are still kids, parents are still parents, and there’s still nothing like a BBQ to reunite a family.

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Education Center COVID-19 Back-to-School Update »