As remote learning starts in Shawnee Mission, nonprofit Tyler’s House KC pivots to meet SM North students’ ‘basic needs’ during pandemic

Tyler's House KC, a nonprofit geared toward SM North students, found different ways to serve students and build community during the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a drive for Giving Hope and Help, a nonprofit that provides feminine hygiene products. Photo courtesy Tyler's House KC.

With the start of school in Shawnee Mission Tuesday, Sept. 8, a student-oriented nonprofit for SM North students is reorienting its programming to accommodate social distancing and “the new norm” of COVID-19.

Tyler’s House KC, a nonprofit started by a parent of SM North grads, was established last school year with the mission to provide a space for after-school activities, as well as homework help, evening meals, creative arts programming, life skills development and mentorship.

Cori Hastings, founder of the nonprofit and mother of three SM North grads, said the scope of their efforts have adjusted with the pandemic, but that the core mission of serving students and building community remains the same.

“Once it became clear that we couldn’t wait until the pandemic was over to move forward, and we began to understand that people needed each other now more than ever, we decided to schedule a few outdoor, small group activities that could provide some necessary connection,” Hastings said. “Self-care sessions, creative arts programs and building community all speak to our overall mission of establishing safe, creative spaces for emotional wellbeing.”

Tyler’s House KC also hosted a virtual 5K last weekend. Photo courtesy Tyler’s House KC.

Shawnee Mission Schools is starting the 2020-21 academic year with all of its roughly 27,000 students learning remotely.

‘Being ready to meet basic needs’

As part of the pivot, Tyler’s House KC has focused on providing basic resources to the community, through programs like Harvesters for food assistance, and Giving Hope and Help for feminine hygiene products. 

Other activities have focused more on students’ mental health needs.

Tyler’s House KC hosted a “Brain Break” at the end of August, during which participants spent an hour-and-a-half doing self-care outdoors: breathing exercises, journaling, mindfulness and playful movements. Another “Brain Break” is planned for November.

September is also Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, so Tyler’s House KC is initiating “candid conversations about suicide and depression,” Hastings said, noting that these conversations are essential.

Chalk art and hope rocks are part of Tyler’s House KC’s mission to spread cheer and encouragement during this isolating time. Photo courtesy Tyler’s House KC.

Part of those conversations will also incorporate a painting activity in which participants will decorate Hope Rocks with inspiring quotes and messages. Hastings said these rocks will be left around Shawnee Mission neighborhoods “to offer encouragement when they are found.”

The nonprofit also worked with Jeff Brown and Kathy Vollenweider at The Welstone to connect students with senior residents who have been unable to have visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tyler’s House decorated the sidewalks around The Welstone and played some music outdoors for the residents. Hastings said some of them came out to their balconies and began dancing. 

Tyler’s House KC will return to The Welstone on Sept. 19 for a dance party on National Dance Day.

The nonprofit is still looking for a headquarters. In the meantime, volunteers are finding ways to connect with small groups of students during the pandemic. Hastings said the focus now is “being ready to meet basic needs, if necessary, such as food, toiletries, school supplies, and emotional support.”

Some fundraising events had to be canceled due to the health and safety risks during the pandemic, but Tyler’s House KC accepts donations online.