If you do a google search for the Yvonne Richardson Community Center, the results show “Temporarily Closed,” but that is definitely not the case. There is plenty going on at one of Fayetteville’s favorite places for play.
Led by Tenisha Gist for eight years, the center is still serving as a critical hub for families. Gist, a Tennessee native, knows her way around a gym. She played basketball at Ole Miss from 2000-2004 and has always felt drawn to serve. For kids in south Fayetteville, YRCC makes serving families possible.
When COVID-19 hit, the center was forced to close, but programming didn’t stop. Instead, it adapted. With a supportive board and the tenacity to keep serving the community, Gist mobilized donations and local partnerships to make sure the center could continue to provide quality activities for kids at home.
“We have a history of fun, effective programs that attracts all types. The majority of kids who use our programs come from low-income families, but we have a healthy mix of kids from different demographics,” Gist said. “Now that we’ve moved to virtual programming, we developed take-home activities that are fun and educational.”
A grantee of the Arkansas Community Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund, the center left no stone unturned before implementing new ways of working. “Before trying to start all new programming, we did a survey of our clientele asking questions like, ‘What do you need? What devices do you have at home? Do you have reliable internet access?’ This helped us meet families where they were,” said Gist.
Local collaboration has been key. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t duplicating effort between other organizations in town and that we could all still serve our clients through this weird time.”
Hundreds of books have been donated to YRCC by the Fayetteville Public Library. Weekly produce bags were provided by Apple Seeds Inc. and the Coop provided snacks after school. Backpacks, donated by the local St. James Baptist Church, line the center’s entrance loaded with school supplies. Various departments at the University of Arkansas help provide educational activities, instruction, volunteers and supplies for afterschool programming. There are even small crock pots. All participating youth (ages K-6th grade) are provided with cookware, food and recipes to try safely at home with virtual instruction.
When asked about the future of the center, Gist is quick to confirm, “We aren’t going anywhere. We will have programs and play time at local parks where we can socially distance and still have fun. And when the doors open again, we’ll be ready for that too.”