With the official start of summer just over a week away, and the school year ending across the country, the reality is this summer will be much different for a lot of kids.
Pools and spray parks in many communities won't be opening this year, camps have been altered or cancelled in many cases, and family vacations have been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This will leave a lot of kids without much to do this summer and Jerome Bettis is well aware of that. Bettis, a father of two, understands the struggle of keeping kids busy during the summer months. So, he is doing his part.
Through his Bus Stops Here Foundation Bettis launched 'Check Inn,' a virtual program funded by the Ford Motor Company Fund, to connect middle school students to engaging activities. The focus is on tech and innovation, art, video and film, math, Spanish, entrepreneurship and more.
"This summer is difficult. The vacation part is not there," said Bettis. "We have to figure out what we are going to do with our kids all summer.
"We decided to create the content side for middle school kids. I have a middle school aged son, Jerome Jr. He is going to be a part of this. It's important to know where they are. I know this summer his brain won't be turned off. It will be on. He will be connected, and he will be a part of the learning process. That is all I can ask for. I still want him to use his time positively and this is an opportunity."
The six-week program is free to all middle school students by registering through the Bus Stops Here Foundation.
But it's not just your run-of-the-mill virtual education program. Not by a long shot.
When you log in you are welcomed by a DJ with music setting the stage for the fun that is about to come. The welcome is one filled with energy and excitement, with shoutouts to the students from across the country who are logged on.
The first guest teacher was Joevell Arnold, a 17-year old video game creator and designer who has already interned at Microsoft.
And Bettis himself was there to welcome the students.
"I just want to kick this thing off," Bettis told the group. "I think it's incredible what is happening. I hope everyone takes advantage of the opportunity. It's six weeks, but it's going to make a difference. I think back to when I was a kid, things like this made a difference, they encouraged me, they opened my eyes to new things, to new avenues in life. Take advantage of this. Use it. It's going to benefit you in the long run.
"Thank you to the young men and women who are watching and want to learn. It's all about you guys. As long as you get something out of it, I am satisfied."
The 'Check Inn' program is the latest in what has been a busy offseason of helping kids. Bettis launched a program earlier this year to help raise fund to buy laptops for school students in Western Pennsylvania when they were without one when schools went to online learning.
"We had a big push in the spring as far as raising money for laptops," said Bettis. "We are still committed to raising money for laptops for students in Western Pennsylvania, in the Pittsburgh area. We have purchased over 350 laptops so far.
"With the pandemic there has been an issue with kids having the technology and the access to continue and have the necessary equipment. We are trying to provide both. Everyone said we are going right to online teaching and cyber learning. A lot of people didn't think about the kids who didn't have laptops or access to the internet. Those kids get left further behind. The digital divide is real. This has shown that divide is getting wider. We wanted to help bridge the gap. It's been so rewarding to be able to get them connected, get them laptops, so they can be involved in learning again.
"This is something kids are going to need. It's centered around tech and innovation because that is where the world is going. They need other things too. We want to provide the content kids needs and enjoy. You want them to take ownership of this."
To register for the program click on 'Check Inn.'