A recent study of children in third to fifth grades showed that in a normal year, students lost, on average, about 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their school-year gains in math during summer break.

For the past 36 years, Triangle Community Foundation has offered a program to mitigate this loss called Send A Kid To Camp – focused on supporting children through fun and unique summer learning opportunities. In January we awarded 13 local nonprofits grants of $10,000 each to continue this vital work.

Lori 2020

Then suddenly, the world was different. The past few months have been a whirlwind of constant changes in education and childcare. As many of us cope with balancing work and caring for children of all ages during the pandemic, I’m more appreciative than ever of the foundation’s dedicated nonprofit partners and their endless capacity to adapt and adjust.

This summer, we transitioned those summer camp grants to general operating support and chose to be flexible with that funding by telling our grantees we understood if summer programming couldn’t occur. We gathered these nonprofit leaders virtually twice to check in, and instead of plans being canceled we heard of so many creative, new plans being made. The innovation we’ve seen has been truly inspiring – even more so because we know that nonprofit staffers are also juggling working from home and caring for their own families while they focus on meeting the community’s growing needs.

SEEDS told us of sending boxes home with children to prepare them for virtual cooking classes and nutrition learning, even including the food, child-safe chopping knives and cutting boards. Triangle Bikeworks pivoted from a bicycling trip focused on historical and conservation learning across four states to a virtual program open to the community. Juntos convened their usual summer program virtually instead of residentially and was still able to offer college access programming to 70-plus Latinx students.

We’re inspired and honored to be a part of this work, and it’s informed our own as we think about our Education & Youth Impact Area and its grants this fall.

Our community cannot succeed unless we focus on an equitable education for all students, especially during times such as these. Over the last year, we had chosen to focus on creating and enabling educated and empowered youth leaders, with an additional focus on ensuring youth could complete their current educational track and, if desired, both access and complete college.

But when the world changed, we realized it’s hard to focus on the future when the present is so uncertain. And it seemed out of touch to proceed with our Send A Kid To Camp grant application cycle in August when no one can predict what summer 2021 might look like.

Ultimately, we decided we needed to live in the present, as so many of our nonprofit partners are being forced to do. Studies are suggesting that learning loss in reading will be upward of 30 percent, while math will have grown to 50 percent due to the pandemic and changes in educational opportunities over last spring and summer. To this end, our fall grant cycle is now focusing on flexible Covid relief for youth ages 5 to 24 facing learning loss, food insecurity, mental health and technology access.

As the fall progresses, I’m holding tight to the knowledge that we’re not in this alone. As a foundation and a nonprofit, but also as an individual and a parent, I know that we cannot move forward in isolation (certainly, if we’ve learned nothing else in quarantine, it has been this).

I’m grateful that we can be a partner in this work, even if only in a small way, and look forward to the bright spots to come.

Lori O’Keefe is the president and CEO of Triangle Community Foundation. Reach her at lori@trianglecf.org.