News & Politics

My Life in DC’s Coronavirus Era: Gabrielle Webster of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington

A feature about how people around Washington are adjusting to our new reality.

Gabrielle Webster is the President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Webster.
Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

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Gabrielle Webster is the President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

How has your organization been impacted by the pandemic? 

Our organization has been deeply impacted by the affects of COVID -19. We’ve experienced the harsh realities of over 100 layoffs and furloughed many staff. We’ve also had to cancel or postpone several key revenue generating events during the spring and summer. There are over 20,000 youth who look to our Clubs for hope, safety, consistent meals, tutoring and friendship. Our goal is to remain optimistic and ensure that we work together, weathering this storm for them.

How have you had to change your operations in order to serve the community during the crisis?

To continue serving those who need us most, we have reinvented how we provide services. In a one-week turnaround, we launched Clubhouse @ Your House, which brings all the elements of a Boys & Girls Clubs experience to our youth, at home. Each day youth have virtual access to original live programming, educational games, homework help and creative projects. We also offer dedicated time just for teens to allow open discussion on the issues of the day and a much needed connection to trusted staff and a network of friends while maintaining youth safety.

We are also providing 12 hours of daily childcare for COVID-19 healthcare and first responders where essential employees may take their children during work shifts. Lastly, it’s important to us that our youth still receive the critical nutrition they need, and we distribute over 350 meals each week at several Clubs.

Have you seen the fundraising environment change as a result of the pandemic? If so, how?

There have been individuals, corporations and foundations that have been extremely generous during this time, when their support is needed most.  In light of the pandemic, many donors have been willing to lift previous gift restrictions, which has been very helpful. This flexibility has allowed us to use funds to move forward with purpose and navigate this trying time. We have been keeping the community and our supporters apprised of all programing and fundraising efforts through Facebook and Twitter, and we’ll continue to do so for our upcoming GivingTuesday on May 5.

How concerned are you about your organization’s ability to continue fulfilling its mission amid the pandemic? 

Our mission to support the kids that need us most is vital. So, of course I am concerned. That being said, BGCGW is a 134-year-old organization and has been able to overcome many challenges over the years. We expect that with the help of our boards and supporters, we will survive this pandemic.

What’s your organization’s most urgent need right now?

We continue to need donations, large and small. Those donations help us continue the programming, meal service and online offerings, so our kids will not only survive, but thrive during this pandemic. BGCGW works hard to create a sense of normalcy for our kids in the face of fear.

What can people in the area do if they’d like to help?

Financial donations are the most helpful way for us to maintain the transformative programs we offer. We are so fortunate to have members of the community that are willing to give of their time and volunteer, however to maintain the safety of our youth and staff, we are seeking purely financial donations at this time, here.

Where are you working from these days? How has your daily routine changed?

I’m working from home. I continue to work out each morning but I notice I’m working longer hours. The biggest change I’m experiencing is conducting more video chats on platforms like Zoom and having fewer in-person meetings. It’s great to see people online, but I am missing the one-on-one connection that comes from meeting in person.

 What’s the most heartening or encouraging thing that you’ve witnessed or read about since the onset of the pandemic? 

Our program staff are the employees that work directly with youth, day to day. When the opportunity developed for us to support healthcare workers by providing childcare for them, our staff jumped in without hesitation. In spite of many of them having families of their own and this initiative potentially increasing their risk of contracting COVID-19 themselves, the BGCGW mission to serve our community was most important to them. 

When you get scared or stressed about the pandemic, what do you do to relieve the fear or anxiety? 

There are two ways I manage feelings like this. First, I try to get at least one hour of exercise in each day. Second, while I can no longer attend church in person, I view services online for inspiration.

What’s a book, movie, or pastime that you’ve rediscovered over the past week? 

During this time when so much feels out of my control, I have focused on controlling the order within my home. My closets and kitchen cabinets are amazingly uniform and orderly.

What are you most looking forward to when this is all over? 


Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.