By Robin Jovanovich
No person or organization has been unaffected by the pandemic. Our nonprofits faced a unique challenge; they couldn’t keep their doors open much less hold fundraisers, and Zoom was no substitute for reaching out and helping people.
Yet they found ways to continue to educate, support, and inspire us.
<<Rye Youth Council>> Executive Director Lisa Dominici said the organization shifted quickly in March 2020. “We had no idea how long the lockdown would be, but we did know how important connection is for the development of children, teens, and young adults and that protecting them from unhealthy behaviors remained essential.”
Dominici and staff moved every program they could to virtual and encouraged and helped teens create their own programs. “The high schoolers organized playdates with younger kids and took a shine to the new Kidcasts program.”
Knowing that many senior citizens were not able to leave their homes, the Council worked with Rye Rec, SPRYE, and The Osborn to develop programs. Pen Pal and Phone Pal programs were a big success. Older residents really enjoyed the videos middle and high school students made for them. “We look forward to restarting our intergenerational tech programs this fall,” said Dominici.
The Council’s Youth Advisory Board, consisting of 15 to 20 high school and a few college students, has continued to brainstorm. They held a “Healthy Relationships” program in February. Next month, the Council is launching a Middle School Youth Action team. “From a mental health perspective,” said Dominici, “this is the age at which we should begin to let kids drive initiatives on topics from food insecurity to bullying.”
During the pandemic, Lisa Dominici and RyeACT Coalition Coordinator Nancy Pasquale, never ones to sit on their heels, became certified youth mental health instructors.
What better place for kids to go and feel safe than <<The Westchester Children’s Museum>>? They were fortunate to have just completed another phase of construction which gave them an abundance of space when the pandemic hit.
“Just as importantly, the Museum is there for everyone, wherever you are on the economic spectrum,” offered Board President Carolyn Carr Spencer, the mother of four. “Learning and creativity occur with the simplest of materials and very little of our educational programming involves screens.”
Museum staff hunkered down during the pandemic and all of them learned new skills, including how to make a YouTube video. They have a lot of skills they’re anxious to share with young museumgoers this fall.
With a focus on helping older adults connect with family, friends, and their doctors, <<SPRYE>> launched a new initiative in the spring called TotalAccess Now. This program is designed to provide technical support to older adults on how to use their own devices, as well as provide smart devices and training to those individuals who qualify.
Jane D. was the first recipient to sign up for SPRYE’s new initiative with the goal of learning how to use Zoom. Her perspective is that she “wants to learn something new every day.”
The need to keep learning for many never subsides and along with Jane, a dozen older adults have already received training and support from SPRYE.
The community is excited to celebrate SPRYE’s 10th anniversary at a “masked” celebration October 7.
The benefits of getting closer to nature and spending time outdoors have been clearly demonstrated in the last 18 months. <<The Jay Heritage Center>> has enjoyed a boon of visitors. “It’s gratifying to see the community-at-large enjoying the landscape,” says Executive Director Kevin Peraino. “Many of those who come regularly have watched the restoration of the garden, which is slated to open this fall, and have become an incredible volunteer corps.” They weed, plant, prune and even train the roses while socializing.
The Jay annually hosts a professional production of “Striving for Freedom” for students. “Sixty-five students from Ossining came to watch it this year. It was our first school trip in the gardens,” said Peraino.
The pandemic had a big impact on the thinking of Peraino and the Jay board. “We learned two things in the last 18 months: We have a remarkable landscape and there is so much history in that meadow. So, we’ll be giving landscape tours with history threaded through them — from the Paleo-Indians to the enslaved to the wealthy owners of this property.”
Author and Greenhaven neighbor David Grann will be at the Jay October 1 to speak about his powerful work of history, “Killers of the Flower Moon.”
The best thing about <<The Rye Arts Center>>? Director Adam Levi points to the fact that “it’s not just a cultural hub, but also an organization that complements Rye’s other great organizations.” They had their busiest summer in years while funding educational outreach and bringing beauty to downtown Rye with the “Rye’sAbove” public art exhibition of butterflies. On September 21 those magical sculptures will be auctioned at a gathering at Wainwright House.
Having worked through the pandemic, Levi said the Center is stronger having gone through it. “We’ve created new events, new programs and been approached by other organizations to provide them with virtual programming.”
This fall, the RAC is bringing back birthday parties, offering a printmaking workshop for kids, they’re hoping to offer visual classes for Parkinson’s patients, and holding a used art and music sale on September 25 to fund scholarships. “We’ve increased the number of scholarships we provide by 50 percent,” said Levi proudly.
It’s amazing what can be accomplished during a pandemic.
<<The Rye Free Reading Room>> worked overtime to make virtual programming exciting and to make good use of the Village Green when its doors were shut. “Right now, we’re looking at how we can support normalcy!” said Director Chris Shoemaker.
The staff have whipped up new craft and cooking classes for teens. In response to parents of children with special needs, they will offer an inclusive story time. Spin-a-Yarn and ESL will resume in the library soon. Elementary-age students have enjoyed tinkering, using electronics and puzzles to build a variety of amazing things.
In 2022, the library will launch an information literacy series to help all ages find the facts they need.
Senior citizens were the first group to return to their favorite <<Rye YMCA>> activities when the facility reopened, said Executive Director Gregg Howells. “They got back into aquatic classes and started playing pickleball before anyone else!”
They, and all members, will have more space to exercise, learn, and play now that the Y has leased the vacant building at 1037 Boston Post Road and is set to break ground on The Studios at the Rye YMCA September 10.
The Y’s Early Learning Center is also expanding in size and scope, explained Kathy Lynam, Senior Director of Family Programs, Camp, Childcare. Children will plant seeds and use what they plant to make their own snacks. They’ll also spend 30 minutes of every day enjoying a physical activity.
Preschoolers can become part of a cooking club. Families and school children will benefit from a Safety Around Water workshop. After school, the Y will partner with the library and give out awards to students who read for 15 minutes.
Next month, First Fridays, a family favorite, will resume.
As the “landscape” kept changing during the pandemic, and tours became virtual, <<the Rye Historical Society>> decided to create its own lesson plans.
“We’ve overhauled what we’re doing,” said Executive Director Sheri Jordan. “We have given tours of Milton Cemetery to all seventh graders. Through our internship program, students do original research which culminates in a visual exhibit under the guidance of Alison Relyea.”
The Society offered a program on genealogy because there were so many requests for one. They’ve worked with Teresa Vega who is at the forefront of Black genealogy; her enslaved ancestors came to Manhattan in the mid-1600s.
“Diversity and inclusion have always played a part in what we do, and they always will,” said Jordan.