New beginnings to that “That’s a Wrap;” Franklin County
SML Good Neighbors formed a special task group in March to begin strategically planning contingency programs in light of the pandemic and the many unknowns that were to be considered. We received confirmation in May that we would not be able to host our traditional programs in person. Knowing that fulfilling our mission would be more important than ever, we knew “the show must go on.” Despite the many challenges of a virtual program where reliable internet is difficult to count on, and of delivery of weekend food bags in a large geographical area, we had to try our best to meet the needs of our students.
First, our intern teaching staff is an integral part of our mission and facilitation of our programs; internships would not be canceled. The majority of our interns were able to telework to fulfill this unique and challenging opportunity. Two of our interns who did not have reliable internet access at their own homes, we were able to provide them with housing in our facility to fulfill their internships. These college students have been incredible in their adaptability and flexibility in meeting our mission this summer. You can learn more about our internship program this summer by reading the article How summer internships are surviving COVID-19 in the Roanoke Times.
Volunteers and staff worked quickly to contact all of the camp and academy registrants, as well as past campers and scholars, to share our updated summer program plans. We then opened registration publicly for any Franklin County families to sign their children up for our virtual programs and/or for our weekend bag program. Each student who was participating in a virtual program was assigned a SML Good Neighbors email address to be sure they could access our programming. Interns and volunteers were provided with new training to accommodate online platforms, reinforce safety strategies, and focus on supporting students’ social-emotional needs. About 60 students signed up for the new programs.
June 1st marked our first day of virtual programming. There were many phone calls to help troubleshoot technology issues, follow up with families and to provide reminders. We expected these challenges. However, one thing we did not expect was how many of our middle and high school students were now working jobs during the day, when previously they would be in the academy or camps. Many of the younger children had scheduling difficulties as well, due to parents’ schedules or day care changes. Our interns were great at adjusting program schedules and adding session times to accommodate these varying schedules.
The weekend bag program provided children with food for the weekend, craft(s), camper/academy packets, socks and a new book to keep each week of the program. In Franklin County, we delivered about 60 bags to over 30 different locations across the county. On average, 6 delivery drivers worked each week to complete this task. Each driver spent anywhere from 1.25 to 5 hours on the road each week to deliver the weekend bags. In addition we had about 6 volunteers packing these bags each week; each bag included an age-appropriate new book for each child.
The four weeks of programming went by quickly and before we knew it, it was the last day for Franklin County camp and academy, June 26th. Campers made new friends and enjoyed their reading buddies and interns. We received wonderful notes and feedback from parents (many of those comments have been shared on our Facebook page). Although we were unable to be in person, the magic of camp shone through. Tearful goodbyes on Google Meets from our campers reminded us why the show must always go on. The structure, routines and social interactions that occur through Good Neighbors’ summer camps are valuable and not taken for granted. Whether we are walking down the hall of Lee M. Waid Elementary School, or laughing over video conferencing apps, the values and culture of SML Good Neighbors will continue to excel.
SML Good Neighbors Continues its Virtual Summer Camp in Bedford County
SML Good Neighbors had prepared, in hopeful anticipation, to host traditional programs in July for our Bedford County campers and scholars; however, we were unable to do so due to health safety risks and guidelines provided by local and state officials. Instead, we began our virtual programs and weekend bag program on June 29th for Bedford County students. In July, we will continue to support those children and families from a distance using the model developed and implemented for Franklin County families in June.
We are providing nutritional support via our weekend bag program to about 60 families at pick up locations around Bedford County. In addition to meals for the weekend, each bag also includes a craft, camp/academy packet, and a new book for each child to keep.
We are utilizing technology to implement fun and interactive activities with our campers and scholars who have internet access. This includes story time with reading buddies, morning meetings, theme- related activities and theater instruction with Roanoke Children’s Theatre over Google Meets. Our interns and volunteers contact families on a regular basis to check-in and offer support.
As we look forward to Fall, we know that many more challenges lie ahead for the children in our community. While the local public school systems have been doing an excellent job tackling the challenges ahead of them, we know that SML Good Neighbors will still be needed to help fill in the gaps wherever possible for these children. Behind the scenes, SML Good Neighbors is researching how to best serve these children throughout the school year. In addition, we are developing more contingency plans for our existing school year programs in the event that we are unable to host those programs in-person. New possible initiatives that are being investigated include additional nutritional, academic and enrichment supports.
You are the Cornerstone, Keystone and Foundation of Good Neighbors
We are grateful for the support of the community in continuing our work during this unprecedented time. The organization is especially grateful for the donors who supported our spring campaign in lieu of SML Good Neighbors’ Day.
Additionally, the funding support provided by the Carilion Foundation, Smith Mountain Arts Council, Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation and Bedford Community Health Foundation has directly helped to support our summer programs and has been integral in our success.
We are in this together and always have been. SML Good Neighbors is a united community effort. It is our supporters (donors, volunteers, staff and families) whose altruistic attitudes shape Good Neighbors’ culture to be one of lifting and love. The community has always shared in the joys and challenges together that we face. Thank you for always standing together with us.
If you would like to make a donation to support our programs, please visit or you may mail your check payable to SML Good Neighbors to P.O. Box 2, Moneta, VA 24121.