FLINT, Michigan -- The COVID-19 pandemic has caused feelings of isolation for everyone, but no population has had to adjust more than kids. With school buildings closed since March, kids have had limited opportunities to safely socialize outside of family settings.
At the Whaley Children’s Center, a Flint facility that provides shelter and healing for children who are victims of abuse, neglect, and other trauma, the pandemic has made things extra difficult for residents and staff. Visitors to Whaley have been limited since March, so other than virtual or phone conversations with loved ones, kids in the facility have not had much opportunity to socialize face-to-face.
But, thanks to a donation from Midwest Offroad Expeditions, a Detroit-based group of outdoors enthusiasts who organize events for 4x4 vehicle enthusiasts, they are able to get outside and ride bikes. The organization recently donated more than 25 bikes of varying sizes to accommodate all ages (Whaley is home to kids ages 5-17). They also provided cleaning supplies, games, movies, household products, and made a monetary donation.
“When our kids leave here, they take all of their belongings with them, including their bikes,” said Mindy Williams, President and CEO of the Whaley Children’s Center. “Our supply of bikes gets low, so this helped us make sure all of our kids here now can have bikes.”
Getting outside and playing is one of the few activities that can be done safely while quarantining, so the donation has helped provide more options for fun, safe play. Exercise and playing outside also offers immense mental health benefits.
“It’s huge, it’s more important than ever (to play outside),” Williams said. “Our kids still can’t leave campus or have outside visitors. We need to play outside as much as possible. Before this, not all of our kids could ride bikes, so this is definitely a game changer for us.”
Williams credits the creativity of Whaley’s staff for meeting the needs of kids during quarantine. They have organized movie and game nights, done a lot of art projects, played on slip and slides outside, and continuously try to keep kids having fun.
“As much as we can, we just try to be creative and improvise,” she said.
Whaley still has a need for donations. They have wish lists through Amazon and Target for games and activities to keep kids busy, snacks, household items, and more. Whaley has an annual event with the Flint Firebirds where fans bring household items and personal toiletries to the game to be donated, but the Firebirds’ season was suspended before this year’s game, so the supplies are low. Information about supporting Whaley is available on their website.
“We're just super thankful for everyone in the community,” Williams said. “We know it’s a hard time for everyone.”