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Boys & Girls Clubs' new CEO stresses need for flexibility in face of pandemic restrictions


Michelle Hillman Meyering is agency's new leader

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  • Meyering joined the Boys & Girls Clubs of Farmington in March.
  • She formerly led the Police Activities League in Santa Barbara, California.

FARMINGTON — When the members of the leadership team at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Farmington begin the process of developing a new long-term strategic plan this summer, they will be doing so under a cloud of lingering uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That means the plan may be short on specifics and long on alternatives as the organization strives for flexibility, according to Michelle Hillman Meyering, who took over as the group's CEO last month.

"We're looking at it in phases, and we'll have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C," she said. "So much is out of our control with the (government) mandates. Being able to adjust quickly as the mandates change will be better for us and families we serve."

How COVID-19 affected operations

Before the pandemic hit, Meyering said the Boys & Girls Clubs of Farmington were serving up to 350 children a day. But under current social distancing restrictions, the organization is capped at having 60 kids a day at its facility at 1925 Positive Way in Farmington.

Meyering understands the necessity of that reduction in numbers, but it troubles her, all the same.

"It's kind of heartbreaking to have to put somebody on a waiting list," she said.

Meyering said her agency will proceed cautiously even when San Juan County's status changes under the state's color-coded system for COVID-19 business restrictions.

Because of a rising virus transmission rate, the county recently regressed from the Turquoise Level, the least-restrictive category, to the Yellow Level, the second-most restrictive category, resulting in the reduction of capacities at various businesses and organizations.

"We've been pretty diligent when we were opening up to not try to grow too quickly," she said. "Once we get going, it's almost a bigger disappointment to tell kids, 'Half of you have to go.'"

Meyering senses that local young people need her organization now more than ever. Not only does the agency provide a wide variety of after-school programs in areas ranging from academics to health and wellness, and sports and recreation, it also serves as a calm, nurturing space for many kids whose home life can be less than ideal.


Kids exposed to stress, isolation amid COVID-19
 

The societal stresses brought about by the pandemic have made conditions worse for many of those children, she said, and now her agency can help far fewer of them than it was reaching before.

"My biggest concern is the middle school age group and working to engage them as quickly as possible," she said, though she noted that children of all ages are likely to have fallen behind in their emotional and social development because of the isolation made necessary by the pandemic. "The biggest concern I have is the social and emotional wellness of kids. We provide a safe space for them physically and emotionally."

Meyering said that while her staff members are not trained as counselors, she is working to make sure they can recognize signs of emotional distress in the children they serve. Those youngsters then can be referred to professionals who have the skills to assist them, she said.

Children in grades six through 10 already have plenty of issues to deal with, Meyering said, as they progress through adolescence. The pandemic has added another layer or two of stress to their lives, and she frets that situation is taking a real toll on their long-term outcomes.

"If we don't keep them engaged, we'll lose them," she said. "We won't see them return to school, and, in some cases, you can even see a rise in suicidal ideologies."


Farmington Boys & Girls Club eager to help

That's where the staff at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Farmington comes in, she said.

"We can really help alleviate some of those stressors by teaching them coping skills or leadership skills and helping them with their self-confidence," she said.

Meyering knows a thing or two about developing coping skills herself, having formerly been married to a serviceman and moving around the country on a regular basis. Her last stop before Farmington was in California, where she led the Santa Barbara Police Activities League. But she also has spent time in Georgia; the Dakotas; Michigan; Washington, D.C.; Arizona, and even Europe.

She said she was delighted to find an extremely supportive and active board of directors for her agency when she arrived in Farmington in March, and she is pleased with the way the organization has weathered the financial challenges of the pandemic. Meyering would love to be mapping out a firm plan of action for the next several years, but she knows that simply isn't possible, given the challenges the pandemic continues to present.

"We'll decide where we hope to be in six months and 12 months, but we will have a Plan BF in case we can't meet those milestones," she said.

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Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.