By Hannah Turnbull
Employees of the West Side Community Services Center were in disbelief when the center closed its doors in March. As COVID-19 cases rose, many organizations and businesses were forced to shut down. Despite change and adversity, the center has continued to serve the community in the midst of a pandemic.“At the start of COVID we thought community centers would stay open. We were shocked when we closed down alongside Buffalo Public Schools,” Halimah McBryde said.
McBryde is a program aide at the center, mainly working with school-age children and teens.
For nearly 50 years the center has operated on the West Side offering a variety of programs to residents. The center, 161 Vermont St., aims to support and connect with people of all ages in the community. The center offers education, arts, wellness, and prevention programs to children, teens, adults, senior citizens, and families.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the center was bustling with people and daily activities. The center runs a youth program for ages 5-13 and a teen program for ages 14-21. A senior program is available to adults 65 and older. Each program is organized and implemented based on needs and age.
When the center physically closed in March, adjustments had to be made to keep these programs available. The staff continued to provide mentorship and tutoring through virtual platforms like Zoom and FaceTime.
Home visits, social distance style, were provided to members of the community in need of extra services. For the senior program, daily phone calls are made to each member.
Rene Bonilla, a Say Yes teacher at the center, provided insight on the members of the center.
“A lot of our youth and teens are English learners so there’s a language barrier there. That barrier became more complicated when we switched to virtual assistance,” Bonilla said. “There’s a technology gap. Many families do not have internet access at home so it was difficult to reach those kids and teens.”
One of the most important services the center offers is providing a daily hot meal to children and teens. The challenges derived from the pandemic made this hot meal even more crucial to families. The staff was able to find a way to deliver a meal to each child every day at dinner time.
“It’s tough on the kids and the seniors especially. Our services weren’t meant to be virtual, especially when internet and computers are a luxury,” Ian Morrision, a program aide, said. “Parents have always relied on us for childcare. There’s definitely added stress on them to connect with us virtually.”
The center was able to reopen in June, adhering to all social distancing guidelines. It has remained open since and plans to keep moving forward with the programs and services.
In the future, the center hopes to partner with a food pantry to provide three hot meals a day to children instead of just one.
The center has provided resources to become a member, become a volunteer, and make donations on its website.