Within a month, as coronavirus raged in New York City and school buildings shuttered, Pichardo’s new job had completely transformed. She and colleagues with Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, the community-based organization that runs the after-school program, found themselves doing triage for a neighborhood hard hit by the virus.
Working hand-in-hand with the school and parent leaders, the organization provided extra support and connection at a time of uncertainty and loss. They trained families unfamiliar with technology to assist children with remote learning and connected parents who lost jobs to food stamps. They sent 85 care packages to families who contracted COVID. And they performed wellness checks, with Pichardo making 60 phone calls on a single day early on. Some days, those calls yielded little good news.
“I already had a relationship with those families,” said Pichardo, who moved to Cypress Hills from the Dominican Republic at the age of 13. “They were able to tell me, ‘I’m going crazy here. I don’t know how to do this.’”
Schools like P.S. 89 have long served as safety nets for parents and students by forging strong bonds with community organizations. But those needs took on a new urgency during the pandemic as staff members like Pichardo — workers with deep roots and trust in their neighborhoods — held together school communities while navigating the crisis themselves.
Photographed for Chalkbeat with words by Reema Amin.
Running an after-school program transformed into triage during the pandemic
Schools like P.S. 89 serve as safety nets for families by forging bonds with community organizations. But those needs took on a new urgency during COVID.