GLCF grant helps nonprofits improve virtual programming

LOWELL – Virtual well-baby visits for new moms and infants. Monitoring a nest of turtle eggs in the wild. Cooking videos led by a local nutritionist. Online nature walks with a botanical illustrator.

These are just a few examples of the new online programming local nonprofits have created, thanks to technical-training classes from Lowell TeleMedia Center, funded by a grant from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation.

Last spring, when the pandemic forced nonprofit organizations into lockdown mode, they moved their face-to-face programs online. However, as summer fast approached, many realized they needed help creating virtual programming to attract young people.

A baby Blanding’s turtle was hatched from a nest monitored by Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust as part of its virtual summer programming. The LPCT received LTC training to create virtual content as part of a grant from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation.COURTESY GLCF

“Kids are usually outside running around during the summer, but all that changed this year with COVID-19,” LTC Executive Director Wendy Blom said. “Our local nonprofits knew they had to start offering online summer programming — and they had to do it quickly.”

Recognizing this need, GLCF awarded a $5,000 grant to LTC to organize a series of Media Making classes for 10 youth-serving nonprofits.

Offered in late June and early July, the training covered Zoom, social media, TikTok, cellphone
video, podcasting and iMovie editing.

“In our spring Zoom meetings with local nonprofits, they let us know they wanted skills training for virtual programming,” said Jay Linnehan, GLCF President and CEO. “Our nonprofit partners needed to pivot their in-person programming online and wanted it to be quality, engaging content for discerning youth. We knew LTC could provide that training.”

The response to Media Making classes was overwhelmingly positive, Blom said.

“I was amazed that so many organizations — and how many staff — wanted to take our classes,” she said.

LTC trained 115 people, she said, and both small and large nonprofits took advantage of the six courses. The online content they created was also highly varied.

Jane Calvin, executive director of Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust, said her staff of four welcomed the training.

“It was perfect timing,” she said. “We had already started creating virtual content but had questions about how to do it better and how to get it out to a wider audience.”

One of the few accredited urban land trusts in the country, LPCT protects land throughout Lowell and provides community programming to connect residents to natural resources in the city, including outdoor after-school and summer programs.

“When COVID shut everything down, I told my staff, ‘Be creative! Let’s take advantage of this time to get out to Trust properties we haven’t videoed before,’” Calvin recalled.

So, Environmental Educator Emily Wood began making virtual nature walks, encouraging viewers to create nature journals to keep track of the plants and animals they encountered.

Wood’s engrossing videos also feature beautiful time-lapse botanical illustrations she draws on
camera.

The trust also created virtual content teachers could use, added Calvin. In previous years, three Lowell science teachers had run popular “turtle adoption” programs in their classrooms. Shortly after COVID-19 shut down schools, a trust staff member noticed that a rare Blanding’s turtle, a threatened species, had laid eggs in her neighborhood. She began making short videos as she kept watch over the nest.

During the summer, in conjunction with Zoo New England, LPCT monitored the nest, and eventually, eight baby turtles hatched. Trust staff and volunteers are now raising the turtles in a terrarium in the office and plan to release them back into the wild next spring.

Lowell’s Community Teamwork Inc., a community action agency with more than 500 employees, also benefited from the Media Making classes, according to Amy Weatherbee,
manager of grants & planning.

“By March 16, word of mouth just shut down, so word of mouth went virtual,” Weatherbee said. “We had to pivot quickly to online program delivery, and when this opportunity at LTC came up, we jumped at it. Not only did our summer youth programmers want training, but we also asked if staff from other CTI divisions could attend Media Making classes,” she said.

The foundation agreed, and CTI sent more than 30 staffers from across the organization to the virtual
classes.

As a result, CTI’s Entrepreneurship Center began hosting daily Zoom calls for small-business owners with questions about how to apply for federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, Weatherbee said.

No longer able to hold in-person nutrition workshops, a nutritionist in CTI’s Women, Infants &;
Children, or WIC, program created a series of popular “healthy eating” cooking videos. Another WIC staffer moved her well-baby sessions online and, in the process, discovered that her client
list grew because new moms found it easier to attend virtually.

According to Weatherbee, these are just a few of the many ways CTI utilized Media Making classes to improve client outreach.

“The foundation was great,” she said. “It stepped in and quickly provided much-needed help to agencies that had to switch to the realities of remote work,” she said.

“This type of grant,” said Jennifer Aradhya, GLCF’s vice president of marketing and programs, “is what community foundations do best — convening nonprofit partners, identifying a common need and providing a funding solution. This partnership is real grass-roots philanthropy at its best. And in this case, the skills our partners gained have set them up nicely for future programming.”

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