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Students First, Collaboration Always: CYNH’s Service Responds to COVID-19

School bus pulls away from Manchester's Central High School

With the announcement on Saturday, March 14th that Manchester schools would be closed for several weeks to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the rhythm of our city changed dramatically. Come Monday, students wouldn’t be tossing on their backpacks, parents wouldn’t be dropping their kids off on their way to work, and City Year AmeriCorps members wouldn’t be at the front doors giving out high fives and hugs as they arrived. 

For Manchester students, as is the case for millions of students across our country, school is so much more than a place to learn; it is a place where our students can be safe, cared for, and have two meals every day. Mayor Craig and Superintendent Goldhardt knew this would have a significant impact on our students and families. About 56% of Manchester School District students, over 8,700, receive free or reduced lunch, and without school-provided meals their families could struggle to provide sufficient food.  

In just a couple days, leaders at the Manchester School District drafted a plan to meet our students needs while schools are closed; bus routes and protocol were set up, school district staff and City Year members were trained, and the plan was communicated to the entire community. While teachers across the district tackled the challenge of moving to remote learning, City Year members and staffled by our Executive Director Pawn Nitichan supported the distribution of meals and materials via bus routes to thousands of students across the city. 

City Year staff and corps members are very eager to do whatever we could to support students and the district. This time is heartbreakingly difficult for all students, and especially for our students and families who don’t always have access to the resources they need even in the best of times,” said Pawn Nitichan.  

“The power of community pulling together was so evident in our opening days of meal and materials delivery to meet the needs of the students in the district” said Jen Gillis, Assistant Superintendent of the Manchester School District. “I am so thankful for the City Year members and their tireless efforts to help us get our deliveries running in the initial weeks of our COVID-19 response.” 

Abby Cozzolino loads a bus with lunches

Abby Cozzolino, a second-year AmeriCorps member serving at the Middle School at Parkside, was especially glad to be supporting the first week of meal and material delivery. It feels really good to be able to help out,” she said. The school district set up everything, and now we are out in the community helping to assess what the real-time needs are, and communicating back to City Year and district staff about what’s going on in the city, how many kids need meals in different neighborhoods, and what we can do to improve the operation.” 

This plan was a great undertaking by all involved, and not without some challenges to work through to improve the process. 

“As with any operation of this size there was some disorganization and lack of communication and direction. It’s to be expected since in just a couple of days our lives took on a whole new definition of normal and we have never had to put a plan of this size into operation so quickly,” said Ruth Howard, Commissary Manager II for the Manchester School District who was directing kitchen efforts at Beech Street School the first week of meal deliveries. ”The City Year team members provide a very important role in our schools every day but it is clear that they are ready, willing and able to help and support any situation that we encounter in our schools. I am very grateful for City Year.” 

While none of us could have imagined this as a part of the school year and service experience, our corps approached this challenging time with passion, grit, and a deep appreciation for the strengths of this city. Nothing means more for City Year than supporting our community and students when it is needed most at this time. 

“This time has actually been very refreshing and inspirational, because City Year and the staff of the Manchester School District have taken on a very audacious charge into an operation that we just don’t really know much about,” said Phommachak Singhavong, an AmeriCorps member serving at Beech Street School. “This is a lot of help, and the smallest amount of help definitely makes a difference. For me, it feels really good to be a part of this, and to make a difference in the lives of so many people, not just the school you serve in. 

CYNH AmeriCorps members help with bus deliveries during COVID-19

In good times and in challenging times, it’s important for us at City Year to remember our values, our organizational culture, and our reasons for dedicating ourselves to service. When we are in uncharted territory, these serve as our compass to guide us through. One of City Year’s core values is Students First, Collaboration Always. We dedicate ourselves to supporting the success of our students and work in partnership with others who are dedicated to the same causeAs we forge aheadwe will continue to show up for our students and our city virtually, as Manchester School District has shifted to conducting remote learning for students, to assure them that they matter, and that we will make it through these hard times together.  

If you would like to support City Year New Hampshire and our work, we ask you to please consider making a donation. With our students’ transition to remote learning and eventual return to schools, the support they receive from our members is more critical than ever to minimize their learning loss and support their social-emotional well-being. Your support is tremendously appreciated. 

Thank you, and stay well.    

Elaine Lunsford waits on a bus while traveling through Manchester to deliver homework and food.

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