November 16, 2021
A Return to ‘Normal’ Highlights Value and Need for Summer Programming in Greater Lawrence

ECCF’s Greater Lawrence Summer Fund supports vital out-of-school programming

This summer at Camp Otter – a Merrimack Valley YMCA camp located on the shores of Captain’s Pond in the border town of Salem, NH – kids from Greater Lawrence were among the many campers enjoying swimming, boating, climbing, crafting and other activities that are hugely beneficial to kids’ physical and social health.

The scene was quite different from the summer of 2020 when, at the height of COVID, Camp Otter operated at just 25% capacity and was open only to New Hampshire residents. Nearly all local enrichment programs experienced the same challenge, resulting in thousands of kids with little or no opportunity to engage with peers, boost physical activity and stem learning loss.

“We’re fortunate that nearly every program that we funded this year was able to run,” said Josh Miner, longtime chair of the Greater Lawrence Summer Fund (GLSF), an ECCF fund that for 30 years has focused on closing the opportunity and achievement gaps for thousands of children from low-income families in Lawrence, Methuen, Andover and North Andover.

Thanks to the collective efforts of donors from across the county and beyond, in 2021, GLSF awarded $270,000 to 44 nonprofits providing high-quality summer programming to 4,282 area youth. The group of grantees included organizations that offer academic, sports, special interest and day camps; boating programs; youth jobs and art apprenticeships; summer adventures and more.

“It couldn’t be more important for our kids, and for our families,” said Stephanie McArdle, executive director of Beyond Soccer, a sports-based youth development organization that uses soccer – and this year, volleyball – to help Lawrence youth build confidence, leadership skills, healthy habits and academic success.

Last year, Beyond Soccer was able to carry out some of their programming remotely, but it just wasn’t the same.

“The kids we really, really needed engaged weren’t able to be engaged in a meaningful way,” said McArdle, who added that her organization, like many others, saw a huge spike in demand for programming in 2021. But this increase in demand had a silver lining: more youth-based organizations in Lawrence began collaborating and innovating with the future in mind. “I consider us frontline now,” said McArdle about youth-based organizations. “We’ve got to step up and make sure we have what the kids need.”

Anne Whalen, executive director of camping services at the Merrimack Valley YMCA, said this year, her organization really focused on providing social emotional support for campers.

“We know that this is not going to be a quick fix,” she said. “Our commitment is long-term in some of these areas.”

The Greater Lawrence Summer Fund is committed to supporting nonprofits dedicated to ensuring all local youth have opportunities to grow, explore and excel. But that’s only possible with the help of passionate and generous donors who share that vision.

“The agencies we support have all struggled to raise funds during COVID,” said Miner. “One thing we don’t want to do is put a further burden on them.”

It’s critical now that we leverage the COVID-19 health crisis for future impact.

“We hope that more people see the pandemic as an opportunity,” said Carol Lavoie Schuster, ECCF’s Vice President for Grants, Nonprofit and Donor Services. “An opportunity to really learn how important these programs are to kids in Greater Lawrence, and a chance to join other donors to make a real difference.”

To see a full list of grantees, learn more about powering summer opportunities and to join other donors who support youth from Greater Lawrence, please visit the Greater Lawrence Summer Fund or make a direct donation here.

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