As students return full-time to school, it’s time to reflect on the past 18 months.

Step Up began March 23, 2020, as a program for children of essential workers and evolved through two summers and a full school year. While the core programmed focused on social emotional learning, it also encompassed a virtual learning center for remote instruction around children’s in-person school attendance. The program flexed and adapted following the ever-changing school schedule of eight different school districts to allow working parents an option to staying home with their children. The program provided supplemental instruction in literacy, social studies, science and physical education to support continuous learning.

Youth Mentoring Services ran the program and Cornerstone CFCU Arena provided the facility. This collaboration has grown into a real partnership, benefitting both organizations during this difficult time and resulting in a strong foundation for future shared programs. Other community agencies that participated include Lockport City School District, Lockport Public Library, Niagara County Youth Bureau, Feedmore WNY, United Way of Greater Niagara, WNY COVID-19 Community Response Fund, Grigg-Lewis Foundation, AmeriCorps and the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Fund. It would be impossible to list the names of all of the individuals who volunteered so much of their time and talents.

Step Up wouldn’t have been possible without the children who participated and their families. The program was a safe, nurturing place to access virtual learning and the socialization that was missing from the school experience. Our kids had unlimited opportunities to learn a variety of new skills (including skating and swimming) and build life-long relationships, while developing leadership and giving back to the community (Veteran’s Association, SPCA, Presbyterian Home, and Oishei Children’s Hospital).

Step Up served more than 200 children, allowing parents to work while their children were actively engaged. When a community comes together good things happen!

SUE CAPELL, executive director and CEO, Youth Mentoring Services, Lockport

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