MAF Grant Partners Find Innovative Ways to Address COVID-19 Challenges: AC Portland

AC Portland Student Drawing with Chalk

Non-profits are no strangers to challenge, whether its finding funds for new programs, recruiting volunteers or hosting an event. This year, however, due to Covid-19, organizations are dealing with an entirely new challenge – keeping their programs and services available while in-person interactions are restricted or simply not allowed. But thanks to their ingenuity and unwavering commitment, three MAF grant recipients are finding creative ways to keep the communities they serve healthy, active and engaged during the pandemic.

Active Children Portland: promoting healthy lifestyles.

Taking a holistic approach to empowering students, Active Children Portland provides a stable afterschool environment for 1200 K-8th grade students in the Portland metro area. Their programs – which include instruction on fitness, nutrition, creative writing and service learning – are designed to encourage healthy lifestyle habits that also help kids succeed in the classroom.

Many kids connected to Active Children Portland have parents that are new to this country and hold multiple jobs, so a quality afterschool program fills a critical need.

“This is not just a drop-in situation. The children are part of a team that works with the same coaches throughout the year to create consistency, and foster a feeling of unity and belonging,” explains Kimberly Bergstrom, Active Children’s executive director.

Prior to the pandemic, Active Children Portland youths met after school 4 days a week for two hours, spending one hour on the soccer field and one hour in the classroom. For now, meeting in person is on hold, and the organization must adapt to a “new normal.” According to Bergstrom, that means focusing its efforts on finding new ways to reach children while they’re at home.

“One of the first things we did was modify our website, making sure it was front-facing for the kids, and that engaging content like the creative writing exercises were easily available. We’re also providing nutritional information and distributing soccer balls to families to help keep children healthy and active while they’re at home,” says Bergstrom.

As for the days ahead, Active Children Portland’s services will likely be a combination of in-person and remote activities.  This presents new challenges, since not all children have access to a computer at home. Bergstrom notes that going forward, one of the organization’s top priorities is creating equitable access to virtual after school programs – and the non-profit is meeting this challenge head-on. For starters, it is actively seeking tech funding to provide kids with at-home tablets, and is working with local businesses to increase access to wi-fi hot spots.

And although times are challenging, Bergstrom sees an opportunity for much needed positive change.

“Due to the current health crises, people now have a better understanding of programs like ours and their value, and the importance of funding them.”

Kimberly Bergstrom, Executive Director, Active Children Portland

Kimberly Bergstrom brings empathy and compassion to her role as Executive Director at Active Children Portland. That’s because Bergstrom grew up in a low-income household with challenges. A difficult situation that involved a troubled sibling was resolved, but as a little girl it did cause her to withdraw. Fortunately, her father took note and enrolled her in a local parks and recreation sports program, where supportive coaches pulled her out of her shell, and ultimately changed her world.

“Through sports, I learned to trust myself and others, and learned how to play and just be a kid,” says Bergstrom.

By Laurie Harquail

Originally published in the July 2020 issue of The Winged M magazine.

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