Time for change sign with LED light,” David Stewart. Credit: HomeGets.com

September 30, 2020; Sheboygan Press and Youth Today

Many nonprofit organizations have undergone adjustments to better serve their communities and stay afloat. Some have completely shifted from their traditional services to offer new programs that address the pressing issues of COVID-19, while others have been able to make minor changes to continue to fulfill their mission.

Several nonprofits have used this time to reimagine who they are and what they do. Often, they make their organizations better in the process.

Finding different ways to support staff, volunteers, and kids remotely while navigating this unprecedented change is no small task. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sheboygan County in Wisconsin has managed to continue its mission of creating and supporting one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. By tapping into its network and following the guidance from counselors with experience in telehealth, the organization continued matching Bigs with Littles, only virtually. Activities include learning language together, watching movies at the same time, playing games online, or cooking together, giving these children impactful experiences and opportunities for socialization.

Camp Evergreen, also in Sheboygan, is an organization that provides for the recreational needs of children and adults with cognitive and other disabilities. The nonprofit took advantage of the shutdown to renovate, repaint, and upgrade their facility. This allowed them to relaunch their programming this summer with precautions and reduced numbers—that is, from 30 campers to 12. They have also started thinking ahead to partnerships with local restaurants and groups that can help to bring back some of their programs once things go back to “business as usual.”

Another area of focus for reimagining an organization during the pandemic is strengthening ties with the local community—how to fulfill their needs and interests, given the current climate. Dare to Dream is a youth theater company with a strong education mission, which is dedicated to bringing joy to children while helping them find and share their voices with the world. The organization had to rethink how to continue offering workshops and classes to the local children they served without meeting in person. Founder Rachel Thuermer decided to post the classes and learning materials on Outschool and went from serving 350 children in Sheboygan County to 1,500 children all over the world in six months.

With many children now returning to school, new gaps have surfaced in many communities, as numerous schools across the nation open with remote-only learning. What about the children who don’t have the needed access to technology?

Realizing this need within their local communities, YMCA of the USA made a shift to ensure that they can still provide for the youth and communities they serve. Several locations across the country refocused their attention from after-school programming to virtual learning centers for students. These sites have been set up to have 19 to 45 students divided into small groups of nine to 12 children with an instructor.

For example, in Greater Houston, 13 YMCA sites will be providing learning centers. “The sites will serve more than 400 kids, said Ryan O’Malley, director of public relations for the YMCA of the USA to Youth Today.

Other locations with high low-income populations, such as the YMCA of the Triangle in Raleigh, North Carolina and the YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South, have focused on their community of funders, educating them about the increased demand for their services. This allowed them to leverage their networks and relationships with local governments and donors to be able to cover expenses and provide learning centers for free or reduced prices.

The pandemic has forced many organizations to engage and serve their constituents in new and creative ways. By focusing on their mission and the impact they set out to have on their communities, nonprofits are coming up with new programs and delivery methods that show promise for the future and will contribute to the organizations’ overall impact.—Deidre Fraser