Bringing joy to the community during COVID-19

Like many organizations, PYD moved all of its programming online due to COVID-19 and has worked diligently to ensure that its online programs are inclusive, accessible to the disabled community, joyful, and interesting. While many restrictions of social distancing have been lifted, youth with disabilities remain a vulnerable population and need to continue to take extra precautions. PYD programming will remain online at least until September, providing creative ways to operate.

Career Readiness Program

Career Readiness Coordinator Darryl Sanchez thinks outside of the box when it comes to his career readiness classes. Prior to COVID-19, he taught students in one-hour blocks at Boston Public Schools. Then and now, his classes focus on preparing students with disabilities with professional skills, such as how to write resumes and cover letters, conduct interviews, work in teams, develop soft skills, and advocate for themselves.

Job shadows have always been an integral part of class, as students learn firsthand what it takes to be successful in a job. Now, Darryl conducts online job shadows that showcase different career paths, including Piers Park Sailing Center, Boston Public Market, and the MBTA.

Inspired by travel vlogs, Darryl calls his shows “Live with Mr. D.” He creates funny skits with a storyline that include important messages, such as how to find a job. “When you teach, when you’re in front of a class – it’s like a performance,” said Darryl. “But when you’re online, that doesn’t work as well, so you have to hype the students up more.” Darryl’s videos work well for the students. “They’ve been a hit,” he said.

In class, Darryl excites students with games like Jeopardy, hangman, and Kahoot. He includes funny memes, encourages students to write in the chat, and invites guest lecturers. “I found that students really respond to that kind of humor where it’s ok to be silly,” he said. “When they focus on the goofiness, they retain the information better. Just presentations are not going to work online.”

Access to Theater (ATT)

“ATT has been a part of my life since I was 15, so I was overjoyed when I was invited back last year,” said participant Lisa. “It has offered me new opportunities to grow and to relate to my peers in a meaningful way. I also found ATT very helpful during COVID-19, to have something to look forward to twice a week.”

Access to Theater brings joy to participants by providing them with a creative outlet, community, and structured meetings during a time of social isolation. “The theater program is more fun and imaginary – you get to be a character,” said Elizabeth Gray, participant and AmeriCorps Ambassador of Mentoring at PYD.

Participants explore many aspects of theater from acting, directing, improvisation, choreography, music, and costumes to set designs, and more. They can engage through spring and fall programs and a summer camp, which produces an entire show. In summer 2020, the cast created Magical Enchanted Adventures, which was streamed over Zoom. The usual elements of music, acting, and props continued to be creatively used, just online.

“Every day at ATT is a new day and it is never the same old stuff,” added participant Cody. “Watching the younger youth grow, not just as actors but as people too, is something special to be a part of. When we first went into lockdown, I was like, ‘What am I going to do?’ ATT gave me something to do and I also get to see people [online] that I have not seen since July of 2019.”

Mentoring Program

Mentoring combats the loneliness of COVID-19’s isolation by providing mentors and mentees with someone they can count on to connect with at least once per week. While most mentors and mentees do not see each other in-person right now, their relationships continue to strengthen through video and phone conversations.

“PYD’s mentorship program has always been focused on communication and verbal communication,” said Amy Patterson, mentor and PYD Lend Fellow. “That allows us to build a really strong relationship focused on sharing our thoughts and feelings. It’s not just about being physically together.” Since she’s not able to see her mentee in-person, she focuses on digging deeper in their conversations, which has strengthened their overall relationship.

PYD continues to create new mentor/mentee matches and provides a remote mentoring activities guide for the matches. The guide’s suggested activities vary from playing online games to hosting an online book club to creating art together. PYD’s mentors are invited to attend webinars and workshops to share mentoring suggestions and ensure that they continue to connect with participants during COVID-19.

Need More Joy? Join PYD’s Programs

PYD is an adaptable organization that makes it easy for youth participants to join and feel included. While meeting virtually does not replace in-person interactions, it does mean that PYD can reach people outside of the Greater  Boston community. Participants continue to show up, engage with PYD’s programs, and love that PYD is always there for them. Check out PYD’s programs and see how you can get involved for added joy to your life.

This article was written by the BU PR Lab.