Activities and Projects for Youth in Shelters or RTCs During COVID-19


This blog post is part of an ongoing series that aim to assist youth service providers in their COVID-19 response efforts. For more information and resources, please visit TNOYS’ blog, or visit the COVID-19 resource page.

As the State of Texas, counties, and communities issue stay-at-home orders, social distancing and avoiding group gatherings has become the “new normal.” With the closure of schools, museums, coffee shops, and other businesses, young people living in group settings have lost access to the only places they can go outside their facilities. Because of this, these youth are chafing at these restrictions as much if not more than their peers who live with family members. Providers are looking for ways to keep the youth in their programs engaged and active while balancing the need for social distancing. At the same time, providers are working to maintain a trauma-informed atmosphere as the restrictions and chaos of the crisis increase anxiety and stress, both for youth living in the facilities and for their staff. 

TNOYS continues to be in close communication with our membership and service providers across Texas, and to facilitate information sharing on COVID-19 response efforts. On a recent call with providers who run shelters, Shannan Stavinoha, Executive Director of Parks Youth Ranch, suggested some activities that PYR staff members were going to do with their residents, including watching shows on the History Channel, creating vision boards, and working in the garden. She also shared that PYR’s Program Coordinators were facilitating group time to talk about COVID-19 and coordinate educational programming. 

There are a lot of resources for parents and families to entertain children, many of which are aimed at families with children of all ages. Planning and coordinating activities that will interest and encourage the involvement of older youth, particularly in a residential group setting, presents some unique challenges. Engaging youth in brainstorming ideas and planning activities is crucial to the success of the activities planned. You also might consider how the youth at your facility could “pay it forward” through virtual volunteerism, creating encouraging videos, art, poetry, or other media that they can share with their social networks and on your organization’s social media. 

The upheaval and uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis is also likely to generate anxiety and trigger memories of trauma. As such, you may consider increasing trauma-informed activities and therapeutic group time. This may require some creativity to protect the confidentiality of these groups, while also maintaining the appropriate social distance. One solution could be to use a much larger room for group time so that participants can be spread out, but closed off from the rest of the shelter so that the privacy of the group is maintained. Providers may also consider conducting groups outside, away from other residents. 

Resources/Activity Ideas

If you scan Google or other search engines, you will find suggestions for activities, games, and other ideas to reduce the feeling of social isolation and to keep young people engaged.  Below are some suggestions that could be adapted or used in a shelter or RTC setting: 

  1. Encourage young people to complete or help promote the 2020 Census. The Census is a count of every person living in the United States and is done by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years. For the first time, this year’s questionnaire can be done online. TNOYS is leading an initiative to “Get Out the Count” to ensure Texas’ youth and families are counted in the 2020 Census. TNOYS also has funding available to support members’ census outreach efforts (learn more here). 

While youth living in shelters or RTCs do not themselves need to fill out the questionnaire, they can help educate and encourage others to complete it. COVID-19 adds to the challenges Texas already faced in getting an accurate count for the 2020 Census. Texas is home to a number of populations that have been described as hard-to-count, and youth voices are often underrepresented in calls for action around the census. Consider taking this time to encourage youth to create videos, social media posts, or images that encourage their peers to take the questionnaire. Here is a video from TNOYS staff member Prince Hayward that explains the importance of an accurate count for both communities and the youth themselves. The U.S. Census Bureau has also created activities geared toward K-12 age levels that focus on how census data impacts young people and their communities. These activities are structured to be used by teachers, but they could be adapted for group projects. 

  1. UNICEF’s Voices of Youth has been posting blog posts from young people about COVID-19.  Voices for Youth is encouraging young people to “have their say” on COVID-19 and mental health, “Quarantine Life,” and other subjects. One such participant is Sophia, a young woman from Seattle, who wrote a post called “Combating social isolation through photography and community.” Sophia created a group on Instagram as well as a website that features photos from young people from all over the world. She explained that she created these outlets because she missed seeing her friends. As Sophia explained, “These past few days have felt different. It is a strange feeling knowing that billions of people are experiencing the same thing as you. I began to observe my similarities to people living on the other side of the world. Instantly, I was inspired by the surge of creativity coming from young people in a time of limits and restrictions. After all, we are living through textbook history times.”
  1. Youth Service America (YSA) has a page devoted to Ideas to Act for the Common Good During Coronavirus.  Not all of the suggestions will work in a residential setting, but some ideas, such as making masks and sending cards and letters to seniors, would be a great fit for a shelter or RTC.  
  1. Child Mind Institute has guidance on Supporting Teenagers and Young Adults During the Coronavirus Crisis. The guide covers many topics that young people will be dealing with while their regular activities are curtailed, including frustration over not seeing friends, suggestions on social distancing, and tips for practicing mindfulness. 
  1. Kids Out and About, a website devoted to activities and opportunities for young people in Rochester, NY, has compiled a list of over 250 creative ideas to try during social isolation. It also includes links to other fun virtual events including a trip to the Hogle Zoo in Utah.
  1. The City of Los Altos has added a page called “Fun Activities to Keep You Busy During the COVID-19 Shelter in Place” to its website. The page has educational suggestions like learning to code with free online courses from Harvard University, or virtual museum tours
  1. The City of Los Angeles has published a list of Arts and Educational Resources for Kids and Teens, including free courses on financial literacy, and free online music-making from Chrome music labs.
  1. There are numerous free online games like Scattergories and card games you can play in a group. Participants can play these games without ever touching the pieces or cards. There are elaborate coloring book images that are free to download as well. 
We Want to Hear Your Suggestions! 

As providers who are coping with this new landscape created by COVID-19, you are fast becoming the experts in supporting and engaging young people during a prolonged crisis. What activities, projects, or learning opportunities are you using in your programs? What are some of your lessons learned?  TNOYS will regularly update this page with ideas and suggestions as we continue to navigate this crisis together. 

Please contact Rachel Brownlie at with your suggestions!

TNOYS is committed to providing up to date guidance and information relevant to Texas youth service providers as we all experience the rapidly changing landscape we are all navigating as a result of COVID-19. This blog post is part of a blog series detailing relevant information to assist youth service providers as they respond to this ongoing crisis. Below, please find TNOYS’ COVID-19 resource page and other helpful blog posts:

If you have questions or information you would like to share with the TNOYS network, please contact us at

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