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October 28, 2020

Spark Squad: Finding our Sparks Together During COVID-19

We all woke up in the middle of March with the realization that our challenges – be that at work, school, and our families’ challenges all increased overnight and any gaps that existed before had instantly widened. Since then we have been working on different ways to stay engaged with youth, but we were not expecting this pandemic to last for so long. As we move forward as an organization, we needed to make a plan in order to better serve our youth and their families in the long term, at least until we all feel safe from COVID-19.

As Friends of the Children-Portland, we put youth first and we are always looking to carefully plan what is best for them. As this pandemic continues, we will continue to follow the State’s guidance while we stay relevant, increase engagement, and lean in during this continued time of isolation. We are rolling out a new way to provide remote service that prioritizes building community among our Youth, Families, Friends, and Staff – we call them “Spark Squads”! The intent of this plan, created in consultation with Robin Harwick, PhD., an Educational Systems Development Specialist, is to demonstrate our commitment to overcome remote service challenges “no matter what."

The expected outcomes of this new remote service mode are:

•Reducing youth isolation

•Providing an equitable experience for the Youth we serve

•Increasing youths’ spark for learning

What does the Initiative look like?

We have micro-communities composed of Youth and all Friends of the Children-Portland staff & board members. The youth are grouped by a combination of age, academic focus, and “spark” (our term for a youth’s passions and interests).

During these activities, youth have opportunities to learn as well as lead, by showing their skill and expertise in a variety of areas, including but certainly not limited to how to diaper a baby, braid hair, prepare food, organize a volunteer event and more!

Every week, all of them get a snack pack, delivered by our staff each Monday morning.

What is the Value to Youth and Families?

•Provides equitable experience for youth.

•Reduces isolation by facilitating community experiences.

•Provides youth with more opportunities to

participate in learning and community building

•Shared learning/teaching model encourages spark for learning.

•Provides youth with reliable, consistent activities that the caregivers can plan for.

•Weekly snacks delivered to their home.

What is the Value to All-Staff?

•Children of staff in 1st through 12th grade can participate in Squads targeted to their age group and sparks.

•Creates stronger relationships across departments.

•More opportunities to connect with all youth, regardless of a staff’s functional role.

•Supports a culture where we structurally build deep relationships, we ground them in mutual accountability, and we consistently see and benefit from the value each of us brings.

•Elevates the mission of our organization and embeds our personal “why” in each of our daily work.

What does the new service mode include?

•Training on strategies for implementing group-based learning content.

•Provided by Robin Harwick, PhD, Education Systems Design Specialist.

•Small group trainings for everyone prior to starting the Spark Squads.

•All-staff training one month after the Squads begin.

Do you want to support our youth during Spark Squads?

You can help us in many ways! You can provide snacks to be delivered to our youth in their snack packs, you can sponsor an activity or share your own expertise in one of our Spark Squads, or you can make a gift of any value that will support the connection between youth and their Friends.

Click here for more information about corporation partnerships/donations, or click here for making a gift today.

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