The East Oakland Youth Development Center is a beacon of hope for East Oakland during COVID

EOYDC took a field trip to the Exploratorium last summer.

by JR Valrey, Black New World Journalists Society

The East Oakland Youth Development Center aka EOYDC is a definite anchor in the Deep East Oakland community that has been helping many desperate Black and Brown families navigate the uncertainties of the historic COVID pandemic since it started. I, just like so many in my direct family and the surrounding community, grew up in and around the EOYDC under the tutelage of Miss Regina Jackson, the president and CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center. 

She has done a marvelous job at creating a safe space for the community to access services, education, the arts, sports and networking. She is an East Oakland community giant, and I wanted to check in and see how this community anchor that I used growing up was wading through the tumultuous times we find ourselves in. 

Check out Miss Regina Jackson in her own words. 

JR Valrey: How has the COVID-19 changed the physical culture of the EOYDC summer program?

Regina Jackson: The physical culture of the summer program has been so devastated that we renamed it, to ensure that there is no confusion between the 24-year-old SCEP and the COVID-informed Summer Remix. 

We did away with the registration fee so it is free to all. Our program is offered for five weeks instead of six weeks. All trainings and parent orientations were completed via Zoom.

Specifically, the social and emotional supports of the program exist but with distancing, the warmth of eye to eye contact, smiles and hugs are missing – which is not only disappointing for students; my staff and myself also struggle with these limitations. 

Fortunately, the compassionate voices and supportive culture still exist, so we are all happy to be able to provide services because, while Zoom and the phone are ways of keeping connection, nothing feels as good as “in person” service. There is so much that is said without words – we often need to read between the lines, words and actions to understand struggle and confusion, so in person is BEST.

Fortunately for us, the bigger, better building provides more space options, so we are able to service about 100 people per day even with social distancing. Rather than five days a week service, we are only able to offer two-day-a-week programming in order to offer to the greatest number of youth. 

Kids can learn all kinds of things at EOYDC, even how to run a radio show.

Our classes typically include five to six students plus instructors and youth leaders, so no more than 10 people per room. Students do not move from room to room, so instructors must teach all activities. While we offer most of the same classes, our wellness activities had to be rethought, no more African tag or bball, no cooking classes. 

We are still youth led and hired the same number of youth leaders that we usually hire in order to provide critical summer jobs and leadership opportunities. They must also contribute to cleaning their own spaces during the day and we have intensive cleaning before and after as well as on Friday.

Free flow into the center is not allowed either. Check in requires a thermometer and mask prior to entering the building. While we have had to cancel our weekly field trips and onsite carnival, we are having some special guest presentations which include last week’s Wild Things Inc. presentation. Here is a trailer of the summer program:

https://eoydc.smugmug.com/Summer-Remix-2020/i-MG6DT7v/A

JR Valrey: How has funding been affected by COVID-19? Has it increased or decreased because the pandemic is mandating that buildings and events have smaller capacities than in the pre-COVID era?

Regina Jackson: As soon as we made the decision to close (in alignment with OUSD’s movements), I immediately shifted 100 percent of my time (and our development team) to connecting with current funders to share challenges and garner more support,

Interestingly, we have been very fortunate. Many funders called early with requests for how we were responding to the pandemic. Some offered small grants without proposals, others just sent money with a note around understanding that we do important work. Others like Wells Fargo totally changed their philanthropic giving to COVID support. 

Further, others offered the flexibility of using funds to support our families, and if we had multiple year funding, some offered to send money earlier. Given that we moved directly to work from home, while we addressed many facility repairs and improvements while closed, we saved cost of operations, which means we are doing well. How this plays out in September will remain to be seen.

Early on our families were so devastated they were not answering phones so some of us did a few drive bys.

We also had an opportunity to serve as a re-grantor for the City of Oakland’s COVID relief program, which provided $250,000 to front line orgs such as; East Oakland Collective, Roots Health Center, Eastside Arts Collective, Black Cultural Zone and Lifelong Medical.

JR Valrey: How has the COVID quarantine and the rebellions affected the youth in your programs as well as your staff? What is the EOYDC doing to deal with the mental health and physical health of both groups?

Regina Jackson: Early on we offered weekly grab and go pick-ups of education and art supplies, facemasks and toilet paper. During those pickups, we provide mental health resources and encouraging words and suggestions of actions to take. 

We also did some OUSD interventions around getting computers or hotspot access for students. Some parents did not have any tech exposure or even have email, so this was an additional shock to their systems.

We have had several restaurants offer to deliver food to some of our most needy families. We created a special COVID fund for our college students. All staff are connecting with students and families – in group and individual conversations – to help them navigate depression and other mental health challenges. 

Even while closed we had weekly engagements with our families and our students. With the help of Rev. Cheryl Ward, we launched the weekly Party with Purpose conversations with Congresswoman Barbara Lee and familiar faces like Mark Curry, Dr. Joseph Marshall and Juan Toscano Anderson to hear what is going on on Capital Hill and in our communities. 

It’s even OK to be silly at EOYDC. Friendships form that can last a lifetime.

Youth Leaders were always guest speakers answering and posing questions. We did these every Friday in May and June. We discussed COVID testing, youth parties and how they were shifting their lives during COVID. More recently, I worked with the Alameda County Public Health Department to advise them on how to engage youth through communication strategies. Last weekend, a dozen youth distributed free masks at the lake. They were compensated by the Brotherhood of Elders.

Per usual, the most grave circumstances we heard about from other families or on social media. Early on our families were so devastated they were not answering phones so some of us did a few drive bys. I gave out personal money to several families – before we received $40,000 to distribute.

For staff, early on we offered a leave of absence for three weeks. This was before the government created the care leave of absence which some of our staff also took advantage of. We had weekly staff meetings led by Selena where check-ins lifted concerns personally and professionally. 

We listened, provided insights and recommendations; we also encouraged counseling which was offered through their health plan. I checked in individually with each staff member to just listen and offer support. Each staffer, including youth leaders, maintained regular pay from the moment we closed. This was my promise to staff.

Regina Jackson

I taped a video message on resilience which was initially focused on staff and used as an example to share with the community.

JR Valrey: Roughly how many people does the EOYDC serve a year? How many each summer day?

Regina Jackson: We usually reach about 1,200 people a year through programming. We are reaching about 75 per day in the summer program. If we add the youth staff, we are serving roughly 150, whereas we would usually serve more than 300 per day during SCEP time.

Selena (VP) and Juhandryn (Finance and Operations Manager) worked painstakingly to create a supportive combination of in person and virtual set of programming so that if COVID were to break out we could shift back to virtual. 

We were all committed to supporting our essential parents and our most vulnerable families as priorities. As up to the minute COVID requirements had us shifting info to staff and families almost weekly, everyone has been so flexible. 

JR Valrey: What programs does the EOYDC have going on now?

Regina Jackson: We are exclusively focused on the summer program and our high school equivalency program. The Summer Remix After School Leadership Academy (ASLA) does provide a combination of most of our programs:

  • Dance
  • Math
  • Language Arts
  • Life Skills/History and Culture
  • Science
  • Art
  • Tech Lab

All others are on hold for now.

JR Valrey: How can people sign up?

Regina Jackson: People can call 510-569-8088, or email us at hello@eoydc.org and we will let them know what spots we have in which age groups. However, with the recent spike we may not add to the program at this time. 

JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of the Black New World Journalists Society, can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com or on Facebook. Visit www.youtube.com/blockreporttv. All stories related to COVID-19 were partially made possible by the Akonadi Fund #SoLoveCanWin.