A YEar-End Review FROM OUR CEO
Dear All-Star Community:
July marks the beginning of a new fiscal year and we’ve spent the past week reflecting on the year that just ended. The year began in a promising way with strong programming, great stories of impact, successful campaigns and infinite possibilities. We were well on our way to another great year. And then COVID… we had to quickly pivot as an organization in order to better serve our communities as they began facing inconceivable threats due to the pandemic.
The current health crisis has compounded the inequalities that impact the youth we serve. Our students and their families are living in communities that have been hit hardest by the direct and residual impact of the current pandemic, only intensifying challenges they were already facing. Beyond academic consequences, the pandemic left our families struggling to balance work obligations, income loss and food insecurity, as well as a variety of social, emotional, and economic factors that none of us were prepared to navigate.
As the world around us changed dramatically, our work had to change in order to meet the needs of our communities. Immediately following school closures in March, we began distributing food and grocery vouchers to our families. TikTok’s generous $3M donation enabled us to not only provide food, but it opened doors for us to conduct regular, in-depth wellness checks.
The food distribution program currently funded by TikTok is on track to serve approximately 80,000 individuals, over 15,000 families with 135,000 meals throughout our entire network by the time it finalizes in mid July, when we hope to identify additional funding to continue.
One of the consequences of interrupted schooling, is an even greater achievement gap when schools reopen. School systems have had a difficult time reaching many students due to various reasons (digital divide, changes in residence, etc.) since mid-March. This is making for a tragic learning loss that students will face when they return.
Immediately after school closures occurred in March, we began our transition from in-person programs to Virtual Learning Experiences to enable youth and their families to participate in Health and Wellness (Social-Emotional Learning and Fitness), Family Engagement, and Virtual Enrichment. As part of our mission to level the playing field for underserved youth, I am proud of our teams for stepping up and building the infrastructure we needed to begin doing our work virtually, work that continues this summer.
Racial and social justice have always been embedded in our work –– and right now, our best way to break the cycle of inequality is to close the opportunity gap by providing virtual learning opportunities.
More recently, police and vigilante violence against Black Americans continues to ignite cycles of trauma for many of our families that are dealing with disproportionate levels of illness, death, unemployment, discrimination and grief as the result of both the virus and generations of systemic racism. We continue our pursuit to address racism, equity, and social justice within our work. A couple years ago, we created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council, whose work has provided a baseline assessment on how diversity, equity, and inclusion have been integrated into the many facets of our organization. This has served as a foundation for our current efforts, but over the past three months our work has taken a clarity and urgency like never before. We’ve engaged everyone in the organization from the local staff, to the Board of Directors in our mission to build equity and remove barriers to school and life success.
Now more than ever, it is important to remember that our work goes beyond programming –– we must go into this new year asking ourselves, ‘what can we do, as an organization, to secure more equity for our students and be part of the solution?’
Amid a global crisis and historic social movement, we adapted together to meet the challenge. We shifted our work without dropping the ball, but that’s not to say it didn’t come without a cost. To make sure we ran a fiscally responsible and sustainable organization, we had to redirect our resources to crisis management. We let go of a lot of staff, which without a doubt, was the most difficult decision I’ve had to make during my tenure with After-School All-Stars. Along with many other cuts to our expenses, we were able to end our year responsibly while setting us up for the year to come.
I want to acknowledge that your contribution to All-Stars is more vital now than ever before. Your commitment to this mission is changing the lives of our students and their families in more ways than we can ever imagine, and your dedication is the reason why children find hope while families find a helping hand.
We have a lot to look forward to this year and I’m grateful to be doing this work with you, shoulder to shoulder.
Ben Paul, President & CEO