PITTSFIELD — The COVID-19 pandemic has made it a rough year financially for the 40 Boys and Girls Clubs across Massachusetts this year, and those effects have been felt locally at the organization's most western outpost: the Boys and Girls Club of the Berkshires.
Through August, the pandemic had caused revenue at the Boys and Girls Club in Pittsfield to drop by $436,000 this year, according to CEO Joseph McGovern. That figure is in line with the $20 million in lost revenue that Boys and Girls Clubs across Massachusetts are expected to lose by the end of 2020, the State House News Service reported last week, citing comments from the state organization's executive director.
In a Facebook livestream interview with state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, last week, Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs Executive Director Jenn Aldworth said evolving state regulations caused by the pandemic had caused the state's clubs to lose $13 million so far this year due to lower program and fundraising earnings.
"The issue becomes sustainability, right. And so, we are trying to do what is asked of us, and what is needed of us during this time," Aldworth told Lesser. "But we can't continue to operate at this rate without some support."
In response to Aldworth's comments, McGovern said, "I will tell you that Jenn is a wonderful person and at the Mass. Alliance she does a tremendous job. But from our end out here in Pittsfield we're not worried about sustainability because we're committed to going forward and we believe that our community will make sure that we can continue to go forward.
"This place has been here for over 100 years," said McGovern, referring to the Boys and Girls Club of the Berkshires, which was founded in Pittsfield in 1900. "There are a lot of people in this community who have fond memories of this place. It made them the people they are today.
"I believe that if we ever got to that point where we needed that support from the community that our community would step up and make sure that we're stable."
Some 30 preschool and seasonal staffers were laid off in mid-March when the state shut down much of the economy until early June. Some staffers returned for the eight- week summer camp session that began in July, but about 20 seasonal staffers that normally would have been brought back by now for winter programming have yet to return McGovern said. None of the club's 17 full-time employees lost their jobs.
The number of summer camp participants dropped from over 300 to 140 this year, but the state's COVID-regulations required the club to hire double the number of normal staffers, which resulted in a $250,000 loss of revenue, according to McGovern. The club lost an additional $135,000 in revenue when the pandemic caused the state to shut down child care centers except for emergencies. The club is currently hiring preschool teachers for its child care center, according to its website.
"Just like every other business we're struggling to maintain operations to the best of our ability," McGovern said. "Now I will says it's important that our board and our staff have worked incredibly hard since we closed down in mid-March to supply services for kids."
On the plus side, the local organization has received $60,000 in community donations so far this year, more donations than the club normally receives by October, McGovern said. That support has helped make up for funds lost when the pandemic forced the club to cancel its three biggest annual fundraising events: the gala in March; the chili and chowder festival in July; and the annual golf tournament in August.
"We don't really have any solution to replace those events," said J. Michael Hoffman, the president of the club's board of directors. "So many individuals are having their own struggles right now that it's very hard to create another large event. I think it's a matter of we try and hang tight and try and keep people informed, and try to provide as much service as we can. ... We're hoping that those who can will step up."
The club is exploring ways to cut costs for the rest of the year. One measure under consideration is to delay putting the ice sheet down on the club's hockey rink from October until November.
"That might save us $20,000," Hoffman said. "People don't think about that."
Help could come from the state. The fiscal 2020 budget included $2.2 million for the alliance, with $2 million earmarked for equal distribution among member organizations.
Aldworth is "anxiously waiting" to see what will be in the state's fiscal 2021 budget, according to State House News Service. An economic development bill is also pending before a conference committee where legislators work out their differences and Lesser serves as the Senate's lead negotiator. That legislation entered negotiations on July 31. Aldworth hopes the legislation reaches the governor's desk soon.
"Because what that will do is it'll provide $10 million, not just to clubs, but access to out of school time providers to help support the work that they already have been doing," she said. "The most important thing is to retain our qualified, passionate, creative staff."
Meanwhile, the Boys and Girls Club of the Berkshires carries on.
Since the school year began, the Boys and Girls Club has resumed its preschool and after-school program, and recently began a new program that allows kids in grades 6 through 12 to use the club's brand new fiber-optic internet service.
But much of the club's regular programming has yet to resume. The club normally has an average of 400 kids per day in attendance between November and April. but so far this year the daily numbers are down to about 100, McGovern said.
"It's very frustrating to us because the kids who need us the most can't be here," McGovern said. "We can't have our drop-in program. We're doing limited athletics. Our football program is up and running at this point without competition. We're just doing drills. The basketball program can only do physical workouts and drills."
"So as much as clubs are struggling this club in Pittsfield is still doing what we need to help kids."