Providing through a Pandemic

At Crisis Nursery, we took immediate action as the risk of COVID-19 increased in Champaign and surrounding counties in order to keep those who need us most, safe and healthy.

Staff and volunteers are strictly following the guidelines we developed, which include washing our hands until they crack, ensuring people who enter the building do not have a fever and sanitizing, sanitizing, SANITIZING! The Nursery’s priority is always to keep children, staff and volunteers SAFE and healthy, but current measures have been amplified.

On March 12, Executive Director Stephanie Record sent her first email to the Crisis Nursery team about the plans being implemented related to COVID-19. Since the first emails, there have been updates every 1 to 2 days to adjust the plan to best meet the needs of the staff, families and children who come through our doors each day.

There have been many tough decisions to make over the past couple of weeks. On March 19th, the difficult decision was made to limit in-person services to the highest level of crises due to health concerns and the need for social distancing. Our priority is to maintain supporting families whose children are at risk of immediate harm resulting from domestic violence, homelessness or extreme parental stress. We are limiting crisis care services to extreme emergencies. We know families and children will be placed under an unimaginable level of stress in the coming weeks and months. We need our staff and volunteers to remain healthy to meet the needs of these families again when the Governor’s stay-at-home order is lifted.

Stephanie shared that she is so proud of the entire Crisis Nursery team for taking on the challenge of serving families in new and different ways while practicing social distancing.

Rather than being limited by this virus, our team is energized to find new, creative ways to remain connected to families while providing support—from virtual home-visits to checking in with families over the phone, and from providing goods to providing support through stressful moments.

We are all in this together, and regardless of how our services are provided, we are here for families who are asking for help!

Guidelines and Protocol

Guidelines and protocol tailored to the Nursery can be found here.

Crisis Nursery staff continues to answer the 24-hour Crisis Line at 217-337-2730.

Staff will be onsite throughout the week to provide necessary supplies to families. Families in need should call in advance to schedule a time to pick up items.

Nursery staff will continue to provide community resources, follow-up calls and crisis counseling as needed.

Director of Development and Communications, Rachael Graham, said the Nursery has been in communication with the six other nurseries in the state who are following similar protocol.

While the shelter-in-place and school closures are necessary, Rachael said it can be nerve-wracking for organizations like Crisis Nursery. Educators report 1 in 5 child maltreatment cases in the U.S., so Rachael said she anticipates an intensified need for support over the next couple of weeks.

Erin Zorns, Director of Finance and Human Resources, is a self-proclaimed shy introvert, yet she’s had trouble social distancing and has only stayed away from the office for three days. Not only is she working from a make-shift office located at her kitchen table, she’s ensuring her kids are getting schoolwork finished.

Erin said the financial side of her job is difficult right now because numbers and details are changing daily. Questions are constantly running through her mind: How is the shut-down going to affect the year’s fundraising efforts and grant agreements? Budgeting for the next fiscal year seems daunting, because what will summer and fall look like?

While the financial side of Erin’s job is difficult and unpredictable, the other side of the coin—human resources—seems to bring an even bigger challenge: Staff are spread out all over Champaign-Urbana or in nearby towns. Some are working from home, some are serving on-call in case the Nursery needs to provide emergency care for children and some are students who will not return to campus this semester with UIUC moving to online classes. Staying connected to staff and maintaining accountability looks a lot different these days.

Safe Children Coordinator, Jill Duden, has been communicating with volunteers via email and phone, keeping them updated on the Nursery’s happenings. Several university students who are also volunteers will not be returning to campus this semester, leaving many holes in the volunteer schedule. Jill has been brainstorming virtual volunteer recruitment to fill the gaps and get community members involved.

Four interns have worked closely with the Nursery semester and still have requirements to fulfill in terms of their internships. Jill is working with each intern on projects they can work on remotely—i.e. in-service PowerPoints, training options for staff and completing a new volunteer handbook.

Jill has also been the go-to source of webinars and online training opportunities related to working with children and families, which staff can access virtually from home.

Keeping Contact with Families We Serve

Director of Programming, Jessica McCann, said she has done her best to maintain an open mind to the constant changes within the organization, community, state and world.

“We have incredible staff who care for the children at Crisis Nursery,” Jessica said. “They are incredibly dedicated to their often difficult jobs and have remained loyal during such an unknown time.”

Family Specialists have not skipped a beat while transitioning support and guidance to families, from home visits to a phone or video call. These efforts are what Jessica calls “nothing short of noteworthy.” She said she will always remember how the team of Directors has pulled together during this time of crisis to plan for and best support the Nursery.

Working from home and communicating with families virtually has become Family Specialist Kelli Bertram’s new “normal.” She said her most important goal is to be able to meet with families during this time of uncertainty.

“I have set up my little office in my living room, and I meet with families over the phone or video chat,” Kelli said. It’s going very well, and Kelli has been remaining productive.

Rachael knows the Safe Children and Strong Families teams are amazing, but she’s been blown away by their hard work and dedication as they continuously find innovative ways to connect with families and provide supports.

Events, Marketing and Child Abuse Prevention Month

The Nursery has had many events planned throughout the month of April, including the Annual Wine Tasting with Art Mart and Darkness to Light trainings with the YMCA. Crisis Nursery is able to provide an “Island of Safety” because of fundraisers and generous donors in the community.  The Nursery’s events and third-party events raise around 20% of the organization’s annual funding.

With state and nation-wide mandates, the Annual Wine Tasting will now shift to a virtual “non-event”, thanks to the deep creative energy the Development team has invested into this task.

The Annual Wine Tasting program typically raises around $10,000 for the Nursery’s Safe Children and Strong Families programs.

This event helps to provide round-the-clock crisis care for up to five days, creates an “Island of Safety” for at least 40 children and supplies basic necessities to families who need it most.

Marketing and Development Specialist, Jenna Jent, said the team has become more creative while adapting marketing and events to the virtual world. It’s more important now than ever to create engaging and thumb-stopping content in a virtually competitive world, since businesses and organizations are using platforms more regularly and frequently.

“We are lucky to have a supportive community and board who are always willing to share our posts and help us get the word out,” Jenna said.

Jenna said the Development team has been discussing new ways to show the community the Nursery is doing work worthy of their support. The team has been busy molding their events into virtual-friendly and engaging online fundraisers. The team has endlessly researched virtual fundraising avenues other organizations have found successful, watched webinars and constantly exchanged ideas expressing what they think will work best.

“The biggest struggle with putting on virtual events is keeping people’s attention,” Jenna said. “We have tried to come up with new ways to do that.”

Powering Through the Challenges

Erin said working from home and working through a pandemic is challenging for everyone, but the team remains strong, creative and resilient. Staff members have stepped up to the challenge and met it head on.

“The bright spot in this difficult time is the team,” Erin said.

Jessica said although working from home has been a challenge, it’s something she’s incredibly grateful to continue alongside the Nursery’s passionate, dedicated team during a time many community members have found themselves out of work.

The leadership team is constantly staying in touch and discussing possible solutions for the ever-changing situation. Family Specialists are adapting to communicating with families through calls and video chats. The Development team is working hard offsite to keep a positive and informed presence in the community.

Rachael said supporters have been amazing, whether it be by checking in with the Nursery, increasing their monthly donations or asking how to help.

“It means the world. We live in such an amazing community,” Rachael said. “We will get through this and come out even stronger than before.”

(P.S. Two things many staff members agree on: They miss having two computer monitors and working in sweatpants or pajamas has perks!)

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