For many people in the communities Ys serve, the world feels frightening and uncertain right now.
Y staff and volunteers can demonstrate kindness and empathy in challenging times by assuring children and families that Y facilities and programs are safe and welcoming spaces where we not only tolerate but celebrate the things that make us each unique.
Here are some simple ways to promote inclusion in afterschool programs:
- Ensure that programs celebrate the wide range of families and identities the Y serves. Take some time to conduct a review of the toys, pictures and supplies in afterschool, camp and early education programs. Try to incorporate toys, dolls and books that represent and celebrate a wide variety of races, ethnicities, gender identities and family types. These lists of wonderful children’s books celebrating LGBTQIA identities and families, celebrating kindness and collaboration and welcoming immigrant families may provide inspiration.
- Break bread as a community. This event might be a potluck, a family fun night, a learning activity for caregivers and youth or a community event focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or aquatics. Ensure that the event is accessible in terms of cost (free is ideal!), location and building accessibility. Remember that some children may have limited access to transportation and that language barriers may pose a challenge for caregivers. Try to identify and address these challenges so that all children in your after school programs can feel a sense of belonging.
- Give staff the tools to deal with hard questions. For many people in our communities, their experience with the Y comes down to a single interaction with a single staff member. The same is true for children in Y programs. Help equip all youth development staff with appropriate responses to children, parents and caregivers who may be feeling fearful or unwelcome. Examples of supportive statements include: “You are always welcome here,” “You are safe here,” and “The Y is proud to serve and celebrate all individuals and all families.”