The Children’s Museum the East End is looking to mitigate educational, emotional, and nutritional impacts of COVID-19. Since most of the institutions families rely on for support, like schools and churches, are currently unavailable, the Bridgehampton-based organization rushed to develop new and creative ways to serve the needs of families who consider the museum their second home.
“I am very proud of how CMEE’s staff has come together to continue ensuring we serve the vital needs of families on the East End,” President Steve Long said. “Fulfilling the museum’s mission to serve all children regardless of background or ability and build strong connections in the East End community has never been more important.”
Organization staff developed several approaches for presenting museum programming using digital technology. Weekly programming serving East End’s Latino population has gone completely virtual. Each week, Leah Oppenheimer, CMEE’s director of community outreach and a trained social worker, hosts science, coding, English as a second language, family, and literacy programs on Zoom. She and CMEE’s Director of Education Liz Bard are also facilitating sensory-friendly programming for families with children on the autism spectrum and with sensory processing disorders. These classes are often the only opportunity families have to communicate and interact with anyone beyond their immediate circle.
In additional to educational programming, museum educators have employed Zoom to host weekly support groups to help families share coping strategies. During these meetings, Latino families have explained that self-isolating while living with multiple families in the same home is causing enormous stress. Similarly, families with children with special needs have described incredible difficulties. The lack of routine has dramatically affected sleep schedules and exacerbated repetitive behaviors. Without access to other resources, support groups have provided a lifeline for families to cope and understand they’re not alone.
While the museum isn’t able to address every need during the crisis, it has focused on a primary concern: food insecurity. When CMEE surveyed dozens of families who participate in its outreach programming, it discovered that over 85 percent had lost their jobs and didn’t have enough money for groceries. To help families feed their children and alleviate stress on the already inundated food pantries, CMEE is working with other nonprofits to set up a “pop-up” food pantry at the museum for 30 to 50 families each week.
The organization’s Facebook page and Instagram feed also boast guided activities, videos, and at-home enrichment opportunities, like Crafting Con Kevin every Thursday at 6 PM. The new tab on the website, CMEE @ Home, also lists tons of activities like making paper straw rockets, nature jewelry, and tissue paper cherry blossoms. There’s also ideas for pizza and pajama nights, trivia nights, and science Fridays.