Bayview Foundation Builds a Resilient Community

Girl making bubbles at Bayview Townhouses

The pandemic has had a powerful impact on everyone, but some were harder hit than others. Virtual school was more difficult when coupled with language barriers or lack of reliable internet service. Food insecurity was complicated by fear. Lack of digital fluency heightened isolation. The Bayview Foundation has worked to support residents of the Bayview Townhouses through all these challenges, and to maintain the sense of community that is at the heart of what they do.

Supporting Families Through Virtual Learning

Only 15% to 20% of the Bayview children were attending classes regularly at the start of virtual learning last spring. Language barriers and lack of stable internet were two big hurdles to participation. So, supported by a grant through MCF, Bayview got to work to change that.

The first step involved converting the after-school program to provide in-person support for virtual learning: making plans for providing breakfast and lunch, for the additional staff needed, and to find the balance between still being “Bayview,” the fun after school program, while also being “teachers.”

“Relationship building is the key,” explains Alexis London, Bayview Foundation’s executive director. “Kids need that sense of connection and physical proximity to others; the closeness. So we put the kids into very small pods that stay together throughout the day. The small groups not only help minimize the risk of exposure during the pandemic, but also foster that connection for the kids.”

Today, 85% to 90% of Bayview students attend classes regularly, both through the in-person program and a variety of drop-in support options offered both during and after the school day. Daily after-school options include art, creative writing and college prep clubs.

Assessing and Addressing the Community's Needs

Early in the pandemic, staff from Bayview spent time calling all 102 households on a weekly or biweekly basis, checking on residents and asking what they needed: 80% of families asked for food support either because they lacked resources to purchase food or because they were scared to leave their homes.

Fresh vegetable distribution at Bayview
Residents at the Bayview Townhouses select from a variety of fresh vegetables to supplement the care boxes from Second Harvest.

Bayview quickly built a food distribution program onsite, but discovered that some of the food in a typical food pantry box ended up going to waste. It wasn’t culturally relevant to the immigrant families who make up the majority of the community. Working together with Rooted, the Hmong Institute and the Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens, they were able to supplement the care boxes from Second Harvest with fresh produce from local farms and vendors. Each week, Bayview residents were able to pick up items such as bok choy, cabbage, onions and tomatoes.

Finding Ways to Maintain Community

The fresh vegetable distribution days also turned into a way to bring people together during the pandemic. “Community building is such a central part of what we do, of who we are, at Bayview,” London explained. “The fresh vegetable distribution gave people an opportunity to see their neighbors and talk for five minutes.”

Women filling out census at Bayview Townhouses
During a census outreach drive, which ran in conjunction with Bayview's fresh vegetable distribution days, more than half of the families completed their 2020 census forms.

To capitalize on that opportunity, Bayview started incorporating other elements into the outdoor distribution. “We added a smoothie bar, which gave people a chance to talk for a few minutes while they enjoyed their drink,” London continued. “We brought in organizations doing voter outreach before the election. We helped register people for the census.” (An MCF grant helped fund a number of community organizations, including Bayview, doing outreach in communities that typically have low census participation.) These outreach programs were very successful: through these events, 53 Bayview households (just over half) completed the census.

Keeping the Community Connected

“One of the hardest parts of the pandemic has been knowing that you’re only scratching the surface” of people’s needs, London shared. Bayview continues to reach out to residents regularly to hear about their concerns and to try to connect them to the information and resources they need.

Today, Bayview is hosting Zoom trainings for adults and seniors that include not only basic instruction, but also community practice sessions in English, Spanish and Hmong. They also have initiated a social hour online, and are working to connect residents to accurate information about the vaccines and address hesitancy.

“In the end, it’s all about those meaningful touches,” says London. “Those relationships with the kids and their families and how, together, we make each other stronger and more resilient — those relationships are what make a community. And community is what Bayview is all about.”

About the Bayview Foundation

The Bayview Foundation was established in 1966 to develop affordable housing in the Triangle, an area bordered by Regent, Washington and Park streets. Located just a mile from downtown, the Bayview Townhouses are across from Brittingham Park and Monona Bay. Bayview is committed to helping families grow and thrive by supporting them through affordable quality housing, educational opportunities, access to services, and art and cultural programs. Approximately 300 low-income residents, primarily immigrants and refugees, live in the 102 Bayview Townhouses. Redevelopment of the housing and community center are underway, and construction of a new apartment building will start this spring, so watch for changes.

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