The Centralia City Council this week called on three organizations to provide a presentation on how they utilized a portion of federal CARES Act funding awarded to the city to help alleviate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pastor Cole Meckle with Gather Church, Lauren Day with the Boys & Girls Club and Debbie Campbell, Joe Clark and Phil Crocker with the Lewis County High-Speed Education Network shared how the CARES Act funds allocated by the city was used to help the community.
Using nearly $97,000 in CARES Act funds, the Lewis County Boys & Girls Club opened a location in Centralia, operating out of Jefferson-Lincoln Elementary School.
The location was open for the first week of school when learning was fully virtual and many parents were in need of childcare during the day. Now on a hybrid school schedule, half of the kids are there all day while the others come after school and vice versa.
“With COVID restrictions we’ve been limited on the number of kids that we can have. Now we have two cohorts of 15 kids — that’s what the space we are working in allows,” Day said.
The kids, who could join the program on a first-come, first-served basis, receive breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day. There is also reliable access to the internet for online school work. Since they are operating out of Jefferson-Lincoln Elementary School, teachers, counselors and other school staff are nearby for help.
The school counselor has been able to refer students to join the Boys & Girls Club if they notice they are needing extra support.
“There are so many stories from families that we’ve been able to help,” Day said.
Day shared a story highlighting the benefit the Boys & Girls Club was able to provide to a single grandparent who had recently taken custody of three young grandchildren. She was struggling with virtual schooling and is grateful to have a safe place to take her grandchildren during the day, Day said.
The city’s CARES Act allocation was able to fund the new Boys & Girls Club location from September through November. The club then applied for and received a grant from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to fund the rest of the school year through June.
The Boys & Girls Club then received a 21st Century Community Learning Grant, which is renewable for up to five years, to provide a summer school program for free.
“I just want to thank the council for giving us that start in Centralia and let you know that because of you, we’ve now created a sustainable system to continue providing services in Centralia for hopefully at least five years,” Day said.
The Centralia City Council awarded $26,753 to the Lewis County High-Speed Education Network (LCHSEN), which was used in combination with other funds to get disadvantaged students connected to the internet for virtual schooling.
“This was an effort that was borne out of a rural issue in the county of not being able to get kids connected when we went to virtual learning back in September, late August,” Clark said. “You can only imagine the learning lost if these students had not been able to connect to their classrooms.”
Using the funding from Centralia, Lewis County and local school districts, more than 1,500 kids were able to get connected to the internet through the work of the LCHPEN.
“Roughly 15 percent of all students in the county weren’t able to attend school when it started this past year … Centralia was able to expand connection by about 49 families, which is just terrific,” Crocker said.
About 600 months of service will be paid for using the city’s CARES Act funding over the course of the one-year contract with internet providers.
Another CARES Act funding recipient, Gather Church, was awarded a total of $75,000, which was used to help Centralia citizens who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic pay rents, mortgages and utilities.
Meckle, with Gather Church, said that 55 families in Centralia were assisted. The church distributed about $46,000 in rent payments, about $14,000 in utility payments and $1,000 for a mortgage payment.
“We’ve been receiving many stories of tears shed and much joy and relief both from renters and landlords,” Meckle said. “For many of the landlords, this isn’t just an ability to pay their mortgages on the properties that they own, but many of them also look to this as their source of income.”
Many said they were able to help many families that were out of work due to the pandemic and unsure how they would pay their next bill.
“CARES gave us the funds to give out to people, and thank you for stepping up and taking those funds and doing good with them,” Centralia Mayor Susan Luond said.