OGDEN — Though homeschooling is important as kids across the area contend with closed schools brought on by coronavirus concerns, it’s not the only concern.

“They need fun and something interesting beyond that,” said James Ebert, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Weber-Davis, which offers programming for kids and teens in the two-county area.

Accordingly, the group has launched an online initiative, giving club members and others who may be cooped up in their homes a way to have fun and contact, at least virtually, with others. It started with a soft launch on April 8, and the organization is inviting kids across Weber and Davis counties to take part via the club’s Facebook and YouTube accounts, whether or not they have taken part in the organization’s activities previously.

With Gov. Gary Herbert’s announcement Tuesday that schools in Utah would remain closed through the rest of the academic year, programming like the Boys & Girls Clubs’ could become that much more important in giving kids things to do. Schooling continues at home, but city recreation sports programming has been canceled, as have school athletics and a myriad of other extracurricular activities geared to youth.

Thus, “virtual programming” becomes the Boys & Girls Clubs’ new format, “available to any family for free,” Karlee Stoker, operations director for the local chapter, explained in a YouTube video with Ebert introducing the effort.

The Boys & Girls Clubs may be ahead of the curve locally in creating new virtual programs for kids, though offerings are popping up around the country. But others here seem to be catching up.

Tim Jackson, president of United Way of Northern Utah, said some agencies are starting to look into transitioning their summer programming online given potential for calls by officials to maintain social distancing. “I think these are pretty new developments, so not sure how much information they have to give at this time,” he said.

Similarly, officials at the Weber County Library System are preparing to go online and digital with some summer programming for kids, said Lynnda Wangsgard, director of the system.

As is, some summer programs have drawn hundreds of participants in the past, and even if restrictions on social distancing are eased in the weeks to come “not everyone is going to feel they want to integrate immediately,” she said. Magic shows and other activities, she said, could be filmed instead and broadcast online.

More immediately, a library staffer in the Ogden Valley branch is investigating launch of a virtual club for Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts. Clelia Guinn, associate business manager at the library in Huntsville, said she’s working with teens who had been involved in a program at the library there to start the online offering. Depending on how it goes, it could expand and open up to the public.

“She’s kind of our pilot test in what we may be able to do,” Wangsgard said. Guinn said library officials are also investigating the possibility of creating digital escape rooms for kids, while Wangsgard said the library is in the process of better organizing its website to highlight digital offerings around cyberspace geared to kids.

DRAWING, PHOTOGRAPHY, ‘MINDFULNESS’

As for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Weber-Davis, programming is scheduled for each weekday, Monday through Friday, starting at 3 p.m. with a live presentation from club staffers on Facebook. Those viewing are welcome to comment and interact, and the initial episodes have featured a game of Would You Rather and a cup-stacking challenge.

Boys & Girls Club of Weber-Davis

Boys & Girls Clubs of Weber-Davis staffers are pictured in this screen grab from a video posted to the group's Facebook page Wednesday, April 8, 2020, as part of a new initiative to offer virtual programming for kids and teens. 

Additional programming is available through videos uploaded to YouTube and available via links on the club’s homepage, bgcweberdavis.com. The YouTube videos uploaded thus far offer tutorials on drawing, photography and “mindfulness,” among other things. On Monday, a crew filmed a virtual tour of the Main Library in Ogden, which will be part of a future Boys & Girls Clubs segment.

Beyond that, the club will offer free one-on-one tutoring for kids, handled by junior staff from 4-6 p.m. each weekday. Club administrators have been reaching out to parents of participants to advise them of the tutoring, but others interested may also message the group via Facebook for more details.

To aid in efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus, schools in the Ogden and Weber school districts closed in mid-March on the orders of Herbert. The order had been scheduled to go to May 4 until his decision Tuesday closing schools across the state for the rest of the academic year.

The Boys & Girls Clubs stopped its in-person programming, and Ebert said it is following the lead of state leaders and school officials. Nevertheless, the group wanted to do something to maintain a link with kids and create something for them to do. Some sort of virtual programming will likely continue, even after the club resumes normal operations, Ebert said.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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