The memory is vivid for Shawn Wilson.
It was one of the first days of the Boys & Girls Club’s experiment with virtual afterschool programs. The improvisation came after the closing of eight facilities throughout southeast Michigan to adhere to Michigan’s social distancing orders issued by Gov. Whitmer in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Wilson, the non-profit’s president and CEO, was observing the video conferencing session when a mother appeared.
Leaning over her wheelchair-bound child, she had a simple message.
Wilson realized that a virtual component is needed for those unable to attend facilities and the program needs to continue even when society returns to normal.
Wilson recalled her presence Wednesday afternoon – one day before the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan virtual club takeover, a fundraiser that featured a group effort from the Detroit Pistons, Detroit rapper Big Sean, Atlanta rapper Ludacris, lieutenant governor Garlin Gilchrist, the three other Detroit pro sports teams and other celebrities.
“It was like this ‘a-ha’ moment where I’m like, ‘OK, this is something that we need to continue to build out no matter what so all the proceeds are going to allow us to do those things,” he said.
Piston Langston Galloway and former Piston Rick Mahorn represented the franchise in the event supported by Zoom, the video conferencing company that’s become well-known over the last few weeks. The non-profit announced the event was successful in raising $300,000 (and counting) by selling sponsorships, well more than the goal of $100,000.
The event started with youths dancing to sounds provided by a local DJ Todd Everett. Pistons dancers joined in.
Kids help up signs of support.
During the event, Pistons mascot Hooper joined with other mascots to serve as hype men.
Celebrities like NFL great Jerome Bettis, actor Harper Hill and members of pro sports teams played games to entertain youths who tuned in.
Big Sean and Ludacris gave motivational speeches.
In the last game of the event, Galloway and Mahorn went against Detroit Red Wings Madison Bowey and Brendan Perlini in a name-that-song contest, a Little Caesars Arena battle. The Red Wings easily defeated the Pistons.
Like many non-profits, the Boys & Girls Club saw fundraisers cancelled over the last few weeks. One of the main sources of revenue is the North American International Auto Show’s charity gala, which was cancelled because the event’s site, the TCF Center, has been converted into a field hospital for COVID-19 patients.
A golf outing was unable to be held. With facilities closed, rental fees have dried up.
But the need remains.
That’s why after facilities closed March 13, the organization pivoted to virtual clubs, which allows kids to remain in contact with friends and staff.
It also provides an outlet for those who previously couldn’t attend clubs.
“If the kid doesn’t have the transportation to get to the club or if there’s some kind of physical impairment that prevents them from getting to the club, we should be there for them, to give them another option.
“So we will have an online and offline option moving forward,” Wilson said.
The non-profit is planning for a return to normalcy. Wilson estimates more than 60% of parents using the club’s childcare services are considered essential workers.
Initial efforts will be aimed to help those parents with plans to open one or two facilities. Wilson also anticipates the organization providing all-day childcare services in May and June, a bit earlier than usual because so many other youth groups are idled indefinitely.
Wilson said all re-opening efforts will be done safely.
“It’s all for the kids,” he said. “That’s powerful because I think so often during national crises – or in this case a global crisis – kids are often thought about second, or further down the totem pole.”