A nonprofit aimed at empowering and training those who work directly with at-risk youth has found new meaning in a post-COVID world of education.

Massachusetts Partnerships For Youth, a nonprofit formed in 1988 dedicated to prevention and intervention in matters of health and safety for youth, is now supporting tens of thousands of teachers through free webinars and training.

"MPY pivoted very quickly to meet the changing dynamics of educators," said Margie Daniels, a Topsfield resident and executive director of the organization. "The school staff, the students and the families have been going through a lot of the same things — the world changed very quickly. We weren't prepared for it."

That has left many feeling lost in "a time of uncertainty," Daniels said. "Some people are feeling the effects of the isolation, and for the students, I think it's been a lot."

As soon as the region started shutting down, the organization shifted its focus to start pumping out webinars, remote training and more to "help educators deal with unprecedented change in the way we're doing business," Daniels said.

"Educators are really stepping up to the plate very nicely to get to a different method of instruction," she said. "But they're also very concerned about the social-emotional welfare of their students, and it's very hard when you don't see the child, you don't see the student day-in, day-out to make sure everything is OK."

The content is all available for free. This year it was supported by a $300,000 earmark from Beacon Hill, issued to the organization last summer to benefit expansion efforts, Daniels said.

"When the Massachusetts legislature gave us the money, they didn't know they were giving it to us to do webinar training during COVID-19," she said. "It's just one of those things: We had the money at the right time."

One educator using the organization's services is Michelle Lipinski, principal of North Shore Recovery High School in Beverly.

The webinars have "become a very important aspect for my staff," Lipinski said. "During the school year, they're so busy that you can't attend the professional development opportunities that you'd like to."

That's not the case under COVID-19, however. With everyone at home, "I can really have directed professional development for my staff," Lipinski said. 

"It's been a huge benefit to be able to access it," she said, "because you can't send multiple staff members for the day (otherwise)."

But then there's an unintended impact to what the organization provides as well.

"The best part is we haven't lost our identity," Lipinski said. "For me, it isn't just getting the professional development — it's also knowing we're less alone."

That's seen as teachers complete content alongside hundreds of their peers, leaving comments and discussing webinars, according to Lipinski.

"Even though you can't see them," she said, "just knowing that there's 890 other people — you can see the comments, and they're all positive — makes you feel less alone."

For more information, visit the organization's website at massachusettspartnershipsforyouth.com.

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