Share Your Story: Success in Responding to COVID-19
No organization is alone in facing the challenges of COVID-19. All nonprofits address changing environments in their own way, and so we’re sharing your stories of success and innovation to celebrate resourcefulness while also providing a path for other leaders to follow.
If you are interested in participating, please share your story using the form linked below. We will post as many as we are able, so please check back soon for more information. We hope that this collection of stories can spark different thinking and serve as an uplifting reminder of the incredible work the nonprofit sector does every day.
If you have a question for our governance experts, we encourage you to visit our ask-the-expert email service.
How is your organization working to ensure your board, staff, and mission still persevere through this crisis? What challenges have you worked to overcome? Share your board or organization’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Getting together with our team for the first time since last Friday was so meaningful. Maintaining our “social distance” was awkward, different than the way we always greet one another with a warm handshake or an embrace when we’ve been through something difficult. But, more than that, we all seemed so glad to see one another. I know I was.
We put together boxes of food, personal items, and other needed commodities for the seniors, adults, and veterans we serve through Kingsley Adult Day Care. We’re usually so organized and efficient, especially when it comes to activities like this. Things that were always automatic for some reason seemed to allude us, like simply putting the names of participants on the boxes we were preparing. It took a little while for all of us to get our footing with the task at hand.
We all seemed to share this need to be together and do something tangible, something real that would physically help our participants — not remotely; not virtually. But, like someone so poignantly said on one of the many conference calls, webinars, WebEx, and Zoom meetings throughout the week, “yes, we must exercise social distancing, but we must always practice social connecting.” Yet another much needed reminder to me that during this confusing, frightening, and just plain frustrating time, we must find creative and meaningful ways of staying socially connected to each other, our families, friends, our participants, fellow staff, board members, and community partners. We’ve highlighted the importance of staying virtually connected on a number of the virtual convenings throughout the week, but it wasn’t until I was actually physically together with our KH team that I fully realized the tremendous void that this crisis has caused in my life — in all of our lives. And, as if that wasn’t enough, seeing our program participants when delivering the boxes of needed items to their homes, even while maintaining our social distancing from one another, hammered this home in a way I haven’t felt since coming back to New Orleans after Katrina.
Hearing 104-year-old Ms. Sadie say “Come on in baby, it’s good to hear your voice,” when I told her who I was — I don’t think I can adequately describe the emotions I felt. How nice it was to see Ms. Albertha’s son, who told me his mom was doing well but keeps asking every morning if she will be going to Kingsley House. The heartbreak I felt when hearing Ms. Dorothy, also 104 years old, say “I don’t know Keith, I’m not doing too good right now. Please have everyone pray for me.” I’ve known Ms. Dorothy since the first day I started working at Kingsley House in 1994 when she welcomed me to “the family.” Her daughter told me that she is trying to keep her mom busy, but she has been extremely depressed and misses being together with all of her friends at Kingsley House.
The constant phone contacts throughout the week from our staff have helped a bit, as have her calls with fellow KADC participant and dear friend, Ms. Virginia. Before leaving, I (perhaps selfishly) told Ms. Dorothy that I love her and how much she has meant to me personally, my family, and all of us at Kingsley House; how privileged and lucky I have been to have a friend like her. How she is one of the most amazing people I have ever known and that I know that we will all be able to be together again very soon; and how much we all need her to stay strong so that we can celebrate her 105th together. Although she smiled a bit at that one, she again said “I just don’t know Keith. Please pray for me.” I wanted so much to go in the house and hold her hand and just sit with her and reassure her that everything will be okay. I again told her that I loved her, that all of us love her and how important she is to all of us. When I got in my car, I closed my eyes tight, clenched my fists as hard as I could, and prayed to all of the powers in the universe that I would see her again.
The YMCA of Orange County, during this worldwide pandemic, are expanding services, to help essential working parents during this very serious situation. Our “Social Responsibility” comes first. With our passionate mission in mind, more than thirty of our Child Centers will remain open for those who do not have the option of staying home. These critical working resources include first responders, police, firefighters, nurses, grocery and delivery staff and people that care for the sick that cannot work remotely. These parents are most vulnerable and have no other options. These members of our community are placing the public interest before safe childcare and their own children’s development.
At this time, 30 of our 80 childcare sites serving approximately 1,000 children will remain open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during school closures and offer full day care for the most vulnerable. We will offer our traditional curriculum-based activities, physical education, STEAM projects, esports, and more — all in a safe and welcoming environment.
Safety is our top priority. We want to protect the overall health of the children and residents in our communities. With safety as our top priority, we are following the CDC’s safety guidelines and our staff is taking additional steps in our locations to ensure we provide the safest environment possible. We have increased cleaning protocols and frequencies to ensure all door handles, surfaces, supplies, books, and other areas are sanitized. We also have disinfectant supplies available throughout our facilities to be used throughout the day. Wellness checks are also being done throughout the day as well.
For some perspective: The YMCA was founded in 1844 by a man who saw turmoil and despair in his own community. George Williams and 11 other men created the YMCA to give people hope and a community to belong. And in the last 175 years, YMCAs across the world have been a foundation for communities during times of war, famine, economic hardships, and much more.
As a community, we are stronger and can weather any storm when we come together and offer resources with compassion, care, kindness, and a willingness to help.
William Sawin, Sr.; staff-board liason
Three weeks ago, the National Drowning Prevention Alliance board of directors decided to host a virtual conference in lieu of our face-to-face annual educational conference. Although this was a huge risk, we felt with kids at home this spring, drowning deaths could potentially spike, so we needed to raise awareness early. We kicked off the conference today to record-breaking attendance. Instead of a short fall in the budget this year, we should see a surplus. With few exceptions, every attendee, sponsor, and exhibitor stayed with us!
— Pam Cannell, board member
McShin is Virginia’s leading recovery community organization that is helping individuals with substance use disorders. All of our staff are in recovery themselves from addiction, and we are standing strong together during this time. However, it is challenging when some of us have to work from home because we have children — now, we are working full-time and homeschooling our kids. Some staff are still at our recovery center because we are considered essential. We are balancing all of this the best we can and with each other’s help. Zoom, along with other digital communication, has been crucial during this time.
If someone needs our services and is in need of help from addiction, then we are there for them. We have 115 recovery beds in 11 recovery residences. Some of our residents are getting laid off and are scared. It is hard enough to try and not use drugs/alcohol for us in recovery, and adding not having employment to that is even harder. McShin is great at filling needs in our community and looking after our people. Our executive staff is making changes and improvements when needed. I am applying for emergency funding, grants, and asks via social media. We will do this together and overcome any challenges we are faced with. Being in recovery from addiction gives you the willingness to do whatever it takes to survive and help others!
— Honesty Liller, chief executive
IROMH Africa had over five youth empowerment workshops lined up as an informational tour through Zimbabwe, but in the wake of this COVID-19 uncertainty, we were forced to either cancel or continue our programs.
However, there is still a need for empowerment in Zimbabwe, so we decided to continue our programs online. We understand that the rural and semi-urban folk cannot afford internet connectivity, and only a select few can manage, but we are hosting our sessions online for those that can access it. By doing so, we hope to connect with new people that will cascade into service partners in their respective communities once this pandemic dies down.
We are geared to make a change.
Amidst all of this, our mentor has also been traveling regionally to foster empowerment, human rights, and peace building.
— Tyrone Havnar, board member
My spouse is the founder and CEO of a homeless outreach in our community. She partners with many churches and other nonprofits. With the virus closing schools and businesses, it has slowed donation receiving and services. We are still serving the homeless, but are doing so in a nearby office parking lot instead of the normal church location. For some of our services that cannot be fulfilled out in the open, we are bringing people in the office, but we are evaluating everyone as they enter the office for signs of the virus. And after everyone leaves, there is the process of sanitizing everything.
If it comes down to a stay-inside situation, we’re not sure how this will affect the homeless that live in their cars or camp in the woods. We have endured and will continue.
— Anonymous, staff
Child & Family Services is on the front line of this COVID-19 crisis for those with mental illness. We recognize that the vulnerable populations we see need our support more than ever, which is why we are adapting the way we provide our services and taking multiple steps to minimize health risks to our staff, families, and the community.
We strive to make communities healthier and more resilient by providing programs dedicated to fulfilling basic needs to the state’s most vulnerable residents. Our populations of focus include individuals of low socioeconomic status experiencing: serious mental illness, serious emotional disturbance, addiction, co-occurring disorders, complex or developmental trauma, or poor physical health.
Child & Family Services continues to provide our 24-hour programs to ensure the health and well-being of children and adults living with mental illness and those in crisis. We are taking every precaution and are making every effort to provide the best quality of care for those in need.
To provide continuity of care, our clinics and program staff are implementing the use of tele-health to provide counseling and support to children and families. Our number one priority has always been to ensure children and families are receiving timely responses when they reach out to us, so that we can help right when they need it most.
Since 1843, we have been fulfilling our mission “…to heal and strengthen the lives of children and families.”
— Susan Remy, staff
We run more than 300 weekly support group meetings for people struggling with mental health issues. Before COVID-19, attendance in our online and telephone meetings was pretty steady but not high. Now, more than 100 of our community group leaders have switched to teleconference, Zoom, and WebEx for their regular attendees; we’ve trained about 50 volunteers to run new phone and online meetings; and attendance at all our remote meetings has doubled or tripled! Our Facebook meeting page alone has seen a 57 percent increase in activity. In these ways, we continue to serve our long-time program participants as well as accommodate others who are feeling anxiety and stress due to the pandemic.
— Sandra Wilcoxon, chief executive
Due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on both the museum and our broader community, we have extended the museum’s temporary closure until further notice. California Tower tours, public programs, school tours and workshops, and our museum’s participation in Resident’s Free Days also remain suspended during this temporary closure.
The mission of the San Diego Museum of Man is “inspiring human connections by exploring the human experience.” Although we are closed to the public for the near-term, the COVID-19 crisis presents an extraordinary opportunity for us to deliver on our mission, but in a new way. During World War II, the Navy took over the museum and converted us into a hospital to care for the wounded and sick. What role can we play in serving the needs of our community today?
We have 60,000 square feet of empty, unused space. We are centrally located in the city, with numerous hospitals, clinics, and social services agencies in close proximity. We have a large plaza at our front door with easy roadside drop-off and pick-up. We are accessible to the differently abled. We can and should be a venue to help our community through this challenging time.
The experts know what our community will need in the days, weeks, and months to come. How can the museum most effectively be a part of that solution? Could we be an overflow space for the sick? Could we serve as a COVID-19 testing center? Could we become a child-care drop-off for health care workers on the front lines? Could we convert into a facility that supports people who are homeless? Could we transform into a food distribution center? What other roles could we play?
We need to be proactive and act quickly, without the encumbrance of red tape. We need to anticipate and prepare for meeting our community’s needs, before it’s too late. Things are moving too fast for us to sit on our hands, especially when we know what’s coming. Other communities are finding innovative ways to skate to where the puck will soon be. We can and must do the same.
Please think of the San Diego Museum of Man as a resource that is at the community’s disposal, particularly if you are positioned to help us plan and implement an innovative way to serve. If one museum creates and acts upon a partnership of this kind, other institutions will step up too, until, eventually, the entirety of Balboa Park serves as the collective resource that it can — and should — be during this challenging time.
Please help us understand what our community needs most right now and how we can help. My board and our institution stand at the ready. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, at any time. We would love to hear your ideas.
Thank you in advance for your consideration.
— Micah D. Parzen, Chief Executive Officer
The American School of Guatemala (CAG) is a nonprofit independent day school. And like all schools around the world, we have had to pivot our faculty, students, and parents quickly from onsite to virtual teaching and learning. Though we had (have) glitches in the process, our entire school community shifted with us, because we stayed focused on our school’s value proposition — stay close by keeping connected, deliver a high quality education, and make sure the experience is an equalizer (all teachers can reach all students).
Though our students are at the center of all of our decisions at CAG, we also understood that for this experience to be successful, we needed to find ways — even virtually — to bring teachers in for learning and feedback, as well as to help us adapt our virtual school in ways that are supportive for both teaching and the kids themselves.
We have also worked to make sure parents also had virtual connections and support along the way. They continue to get something from their school-a-parent virtual school to help them feel empowered to help their children in this new and abstract learning space.
By keeping teachers and parents actively learning and sharing online weekly, the adults feel equipped to partner in teaching kids.
Though the value proposition has been an incredible tool to hold us all accountable during this time of shift, our board has stayed focused on the commitments of our strategic plan. A crisis can cause chaos when there is already incredible uncertainty. It’s easy to get distracted with short-term decisions and putting fires out. But for us, our strategic plan has kept our board focused and steady, and has helped us answer today’s questions for tomorrow’s impact.
Together, the board has done the courageous thing — moving the school forward with scenario budgeting, identifying priorities, and eliminating non-essential projects and events so we can continue to fund strategic commitments. Things like scaling back on costs slightly and planning one-year projects over 24 months instead of 12 are the easy sacrifices to keep the school balanced with as little disruption as possible to any of our stakeholders. This strategic work sends the message that the school has made a mission promise to its stakeholders that will benefit all students. Slow and steady, we will get there together. And as a result, our planning has been grounded in confidence and optimism, as opposed to gut reaction and fear.
There are still unknowns in the work we are doing. We are certainly chartering new territory. But, we have also learned a tremendous amount from generous colleagues from around the world and feel the responsibility to continue sharing and learning with others in the process.
We are still worried for our families, and as a result, we are worried about what all of this means for the school in the next few years ahead of us. But we are learning to be adaptive while holding on to our goals and staying focused on what defines the CAG experience.
— Patricia Marshall, chief executive
At Gateway Pet Guardians, rescue never stops. We have had to make a lot of adjustments in how we operate, but we can’t stop rescuing because if we do, then animals die needlessly. This is who we are. This is what we do.
We are housing ALL of our pets in foster homes and have all but eliminated the foot traffic in our shelter so we can keep our staff and volunteers safe and healthy. This means curbside vetting services, contactless foster supply pickups and lots of virtual support for our fosters. We’ve made the necessary adjustments to keep saving lives.
Jamie Case, our executive director, has demonstrated amazing leadership in this unprecedented time. Thanks to her, we are able to keep our employees and volunteers safe while continuing to provide services to one of the most under resourced communities in the country and saving the lives of animals who would otherwise be killed.
— Angie Schaefer, board chair
Our staff acted quickly, and within one week of our closure, we went live with digital classrooms and livestreams. This has enabled us to stay connected to our members, provide continuity in our programming, and maintain critical mentoring relationships with young people in need. Our local ABC affiliate even featured our organization’s swift response.
Many of our members have very challenging situations at home. The Club was their escape. Now they are forced to be in those situations all day without respite. More than ever, they need our staff. They need that caring mentor. They need that smiling face that believes in them and assures them they can get through this. We are going to great lengths to address the needs of our members by whatever means possible, including:
- Making daily phone calls
- Delivering food and supplies
- Supporting their academics and emotional wellbeing
- Continuing to provide our evidence-based programming through online platforms
We know that academic learning loss and social/emotional wellness will be major factors for our youth. For this reason, we are readying our staff and adjusting our service delivery model to best respond to the emerging needs of our youth during this time. This includes providing tutoring and literacy activities for struggling students, structuring our summer and fall programs in accordance with grade level standards and curriculum, and ensuring our members are performing at grade level and fully prepared to promote to the next grade when the school year begins again.
In addition, our youth development personnel are completing trainings on how to safely engaging youth virtually, social and emotional wellness, mental health first response, and the impact of social isolation on the adolescent brain.
Our goal is to help vulnerable young people adapt to this “new normal” in a healthy and constructive manner. With our support, they will develop the skills and coping mechanisms necessary to successfully function in school and society when this scare is over, and reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens.
— Amanda Navar, staff