As I look back on 2020, all I can say is, “what a year!”
One of the many goals of our flagship Caterpillar Project is to help our participants develop the problem-solving skills, flexibility and resilience that will serve them well throughout life. The COVID-19 pandemic gave us all an unexpected opportunity to put these skills and traits to use!
The year started off on a few high notes
In January we had a Day of Service in honor of Martin Luther King Day. Working with four partners we rehabilitated the playground at Altona Lagoon, including repairing the pavilion roof that was damaged by Hurricane Maria.
At our annual Havana Nights event on February 8th, over 350 people dined on authentic Cuban food, soaked up the irresistible Cuban ambiance and danced the night away to pulsating Cuban music.
While on my own birthday celebration trip to Cuba, I was thrilled to be able to take books and school supplies to 270 Cuban school children. The generosity of Project Promise’s staff, who each contributed to the cause, made this possible.
Our last in-person activity in 2020 was another service project: sprucing up Asa’s Garden at the Juan F. Luis Hospital. We pulled weeds, trimmed, and replanted the areas that needed some love.
When the coronavirus hit, we simply pivoted
Once the “stay-at-home” order began and schools shifted to distance learning and so did we. Schools were shut down on a Wednesday and by Friday our Caterpillar Project was “back in business” online. Since then, we have delivered every aspect of our program remotely, we even took virtual field trips. Life coaching, homework assistance, creative expression, service projects and more are all taking place. In some cases, we’ve simply had to get that much more creative to make it happen.
In April, for example, our service project involved letter writing. The Caterpillars wrote letters of hope and encouragement for the residents of a Chicago senior housing facility that they visited in the summer of 2019 during our Summer of Service Trip.
During the summer we focused on job readiness
The focus of this year’s six-week Caterpillar Camp was on giving our teens the tools and skills they’ll need to be ready to join the workforce. Topics included interviewing, teamwork, customer service, problem solving in the workplace and more.
In October the students completed Heart to Heart International’s Youth Ambassador program. They are currently implementing the social media-based COVID-19 community education outreach plan that they created as part of this program. In December our 5th annual Toys for Tanzania Project went virtual, too. Instead of heading to K-Mart to purchase toys for the children at an orphanage in Tanzania, we purchased the gifts through the Tanzanian Children’s Fund’s online holiday gift shop.
We remain positive and upbeat
When unexpected challenges hit, our philosophy is to figure it out, push through and adjust as needed. We made a commitment to these at-risk youth and we are going to seeing it through. Whether it’s Hurricane Maria, a global pandemic or a difficult situation that a child is facing at home, we will be there for them.
Moving into 2021 we are looking forward to relaunching our Salt River Bay Program with virtual (instead of in-person) tours. This program aims to give every fourth-grade student on Island an opportunity to visit and learn about the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve. Apart from the shift in the tour portion of the program, the lessons will be presented in the same three-part, ranger-led format as before.
Plus, of course, we are excited about our plans for a virtual Havana Nights on February 13th. Stay tuned for more information on this unique and interactive event.
Thank you for your past and continued support! In times like this, we’re reminded of how interconnected we all are. Thank you for being part of our community. Without you, none of it is possible.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season and New Year!