Extraordinary times require extraordinary efforts. Our team at YouthPower365 has approached this historic year by adjusting and adapting to every situation so that we can best serve our community. We know that our young people and families face tremendous risk of falling behind or being forgotten as the world grapples with COVID-19. A strong network of partnerships, an excellent relationship with our local schools, and a community of people like YOU have given YouthPower365 the ability to help take care of those who need it most.
By the Numbers
*Summertime 2020 | **Pre-pandemic | ***Autumn 2020
The human side
COPA and Human Foosball
YouthPower365’s adaptability and innovation played a role this summer as the organization met the dire community need for social connection, learning, and physical activity.
A great example of this innovative spirit was the creation of Human Foosball invented by YouthPower365’s Ricky Luevanos in June 2020. The unique experience is a cross between the tabletop game of Foosball and the game of soccer. Human players are attached to each other by a bar and have to remain a fixed distance apart. The bars are then connected to the side of the playing area so they can only move in one direction.
The YouthPower365 team worked tirelessly to not only construct the apparatus for the program – making a grid, organizing and fastening the PVC pipe, ensuring it was portable – but also created rules and policies to foster fun and keep participants safe. For two weeks, the program had 80 participants across six locations up and down the valley.
Human Foosball was only one of countless creative innovations that have made YouthPower365 successful in 2020. The staff, teachers, students and families came together to be creative and thoughtful, inventing new ways to stay connected, and stay motivated, in this difficult year.
On Friday, March 13, at 3:35 p.m., Eagle County Schools
released an announcement via text, email, and automated phone call: all school buildings would close and transition to remote learning until April 8 to mitigate the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
At the time, it seemed possible that schools would re-open April 8. Instead, the deadline was pushed and on April 10, District officials announced that school would remain remote through the rest of the school year, including graduation.
For YouthPower365, which works to complement and enhance the school district’s efforts in all its programming, the closing created a new host of challenges. Hundreds of families rely on YouthPower365 for safe and healthy afterschool options, and thousands of youth look to YouthPower365 for academic support, experiences beyond their door step, or guidance in completing college applications. Much like their counterparts in the school district, YouthPower365 staffers, coordinators, and teachers had to reinvent their learning systems to ensure that during this crisis – right when students and families may need them most – they would be a pillar of stability.
“Beyond all these difficulties, the most challenging part of the lockdown was not being able to see our students and families, to hug them, listen to them, and celebrate their strengths like we usually do,” said Sara Amberg, Executive Director of YouthPower365. “YouthPower365 has a special bond with those we serve that fuels everything we do.”
Staff took these difficulties head-on, and began outreach almost immediately after the March 13 announcement. YouthPower365 staffers are no strangers to innovation, but their creativity reached new peaks in 2020.
This autumn, schools returned to in-person learning, as did YouthPower365 afterschool programs.
However, during the remote learning phase of the pandemic, YouthPower365 leveraged all mediums (individual phone calls, texts, group messaging, ZOOM video calls, and emails) in biweekly outreach to 130 families, in both Spanish and English, to assess urgent needs and connect folks to financial, food, and mental health resources.
“As parents, the piece we witness the most in the pandemic is the decline in social interaction,” said YouthPower365 Director of Programs, Jennifer Martinez, a mother of three. “Children are uniquely social. They want to be together. YouthPower365 has been the door back in for children to actually being whole again.”
It’s only one part of an array of activities that has allowed YouthPower365 to provide a compassionate network of support during the crisis:
- In March and April, our PwrUp early childhood team distributed education and enrichment tote bags, books, lesson plans, and teaching guides to Magic Bus mobile preschool families.
- The PwrHrs afterschool team, which is dedicated to children K- 12th grade, operated fun, virtual opportunities from late March to mid-May to continue its vital academic and enrichment supports; this included daily video chats. Program Leads generated content which then PwrHrs coordinators, who are also ECS teachers, linked students to each school day.
- An online platform for middle-school-aged children launched on March 30 as an opportunity to address social-emotional needs for students; this included connections to mentors for Girl PowHER and The Club participants. Program staff were already in regular communication with these students, so it easily extended into new formats. All of these resources were also communicated via social media.
YouthPower365 staff ran Summer Food Feeding Sites (SPSF) for children ages 0-18 in Edwards and Avon this summer, in partnership with Eagle County schools. Nearly 4,000 meals were served.
Because YouthPower365 staff are bilingual, as well as from a highly trusted entity, they were called upon by the Eagle Valley Family Assistance Fund to process applications for financial relief from LatinX residents impacted by COVID-19. To date, the YouthPower365 staff has processed 44 applications to the Eagle Valley Family Assistance Fund, resulting in $66,742 in grants for Spanish-speaking residents. The EVFAF, in turn, has been strongly supported by the VVF Community Fund. YouthPower365 has continued this support throughout the pandemic as needed.
Maestra, necesito mi tarea … or …Teacher, I need my homework. This was a phone call received by Ms. Male from a student who was in quarantine for family exposure to COVID-19. The student took initiative to call her teacher, indicating she needed her homework to continue this routine and work alongside her older siblings. Ms. Male joyfully took the call and made a visit to the family’s house with the homework and a check in with the family for health and wellness resources. This interaction is a wonderful example of the Magic Bus program and participants living values they promote: routines, relationships and family involvement.
My children were struggling with isolation. PwrHrs has allowed them to safely interact with their friends during COVID-19. They love the teachers and curriculum, too.
My [YouthPower365] experience has been great! [It] has not only allowed me to do something fun during these hard times, but it has also given me the skills needed to be a leader.
I see the greatest impact on the individual children and fostering a love of learning and unquenchable curiosity. For the community at large, it was a godsend to have a place for children for three weeks gearing them up for school and allowing parents time to catch up and take care of everything else we do.
It came at a perfect time when my son needed structure, play, reading and writing practice and socialization. I think it eased his anxiety from being home so long and prepared him for school in the fall. It was also a much-needed break from spending every day with parents and his sister.
Finding out it was funded enough to be free was an even better surprise, and then that it even was able to function during COVID was the cherry on top. But for my son to come home with so many projects and learning activities, be with friends and play like normal kids on a fun playground and have recesses again... the smile on his face said it all each day.
We won't stop we'll
The road to college and career did not stop for high school students. YouthPower365 staff worked diligently to ensure that the Dollars for Scholars program remained on track to administer the $340,000 allocated for scholarships this year.
Scholarship interviews continued as planned in a virtual format in March and April, processing more than 130 applicants with help from volunteers and committee members. 29 seniors received scholarships.
As a wraparound to this work, the staff offered virtual platforms and 1:1 sessions via Skype and phone for precollegiate and career preparatory services; this included virtual college tours, ACT/SAT prep, application essay and resume writing support, career exploration, and mentor connections.
Across the year, 939 students benefited from PwrOn services, securing their first step forward in building their college or career pathways.
Magic in the heart
An all-electric MAGIC BUS
YouthPower365 has had plenty of positive news to share during 2020, but one of the year’s big headlines was the introduction of the new, all-electric Magic Bus. The innovative classroom on wheels joined its gas-powered counterpart in October, creating a two-vehicle fleet committed to preparing 3-5 year olds for kindergarten.
The vehicle is the first all-electric mobile preschool in the world and one of the first ever all-electric Recreational Vehicles in operation.
“The children and families served by the Magic Bus need to be kindergarten-ready even considering the current crisis,” said YouthPower365 PwrUp Senior Manager Kendra Cowles, “and the Magic Bus plays a critical role in preparing them to successfully transition to school.”
The gas-powered Magic Bus went on a special mission this year, serving as a COVID-19 testing site as part of a partnership with Vail Health. But as soon as public health restrictions were lifted, the bus was back to the business of learning.
Magic Bus children now have two innovative places to play and learn, while making a lighter carbon footprint. It is one more way YouthPower365 is protecting and improving our children’s future.
YouthPower365 is currently (as of December 2020) operating its afterschool programs, in-person, at seven elementary schools and four middle schools in the valley. Much has been learned since the start of the pandemic, but it is still uncertain how long it will be before programs return to ‘normal’.
Daily adjustments are still the norm, but one thing has not changed throughout the year: YouthPower365’s unwavering dedication to the children and families served.
The staff has learned to modify programs, create new safety protocols, practice and enforce physical distancing, undergo public health inspections, and respond to news of teachers or students under quarantine due to exposure outside the programs (note: YouthPower365 had no direct-contact transmission in 2020).
Throughout it all, the organization has worked hand-in-hand with Eagle County Schools, and unified with other nonprofit organizations, parent groups, and partners to keep a unified and quality approach to education consistent throughout the county.
In the Vail Valley, the community has come together like never before to support one another, and YouthPower365 has been proud to play an important role in providing a network of care, compassion, information, and resources.
It is because of YOU, the Vail Valley community, that YouthPower365 has been stronger than ever before, during a time when our work is needed most.
Celebrate the Beat
The Vail Valley Foundation announced in August, 2020, that Celebrate the Beat’s Eagle County chapter has become an official program of YouthPower365. Celebrate the Beat is best known for its annual performances during the world-renowned Vail Dance Festival, a collaboration inspired by Vail Dance Festival Artistic Director Damian Woetzel.
Kris Ashley leads the program as Artistic Director, providing packaged virtual programming, complete with live classes to six schools and 134 classrooms, impacting more than 1,600 students. In addition, Celebrate the Beat has expanded its reach to serve pre-kindergarten to second grade, a spirited compliment to the third-through-fifth grade programs.
As a sign of YouthPower365’s ability to adapt on the go, the organization welcomed new leadership in 2020. Sarah Johnson, who led YouthPower365 in her role as Senior Vice President of Education and the Arts, took on a new role as Senior Vice President of Philanthropy for the Vail Valley Foundation effective November 4.
At the same time, Sara Amberg, who served as Director of Sustainability, Capacity & Grants, and also led the successful PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Conference in 2019, stepped into the role of Executive Director of YouthPower365.
“We have, in Sarah and Sara, two extraordinary people with a wide array of talents,” said Vail Valley Foundation President Mike Imhof. “During this historic time in our community and at our organization, we are fortunate to be able to have them each take on new and exciting challenges in their professional lives, so that we can better serve the community throughout all our work in arts, athletics, and education.”
“I am truly honored to be in a position where I can work each and every day with individuals and teams who are not only experts in the field but dedicated, compassionate people who always put children in the center of everything they do,” Amberg said.
Amberg brings a wealth of experience to the position. Before coming to the Vail Valley Foundation in 2017, Amberg taught at both the high school and university levels, and was the recipient of a Fulbright Lectureship through the U.S. State Department. She also has 10 years of nonprofit management and consulting experience, including advocacy and policy work at the local and national levels. She lives in Eagle with her husband Doug and two children.