As we enter the third month of this pandemic, Graham has undergone a rapid adjustment to our daily operations. Following is a description of how we are continuing to care for kids and families in the midst of this crisis that is affecting our community so severely. We are grateful to our generous supporters whose gifts have enabled us to respond swiftly to the needs we have encountered.
Providing for Basic Needs
The social distancing imposed by COVID-19 has exacerbated the situations of families who were already struggling with poverty and social isolation and has created new complications for families that were previously getting by. Families who live in poor NYC communities that were already considered food deserts are finding even less food on shelves. Families are also struggling with fears about going outside, with the loss of household income, the need to support family members who have had to stop working or have had health scares, and with their own health and the loss of loved ones.
Generous gifts from foundations and individuals alike have enabled us to meet the most basic needs of families through food, diapers, and household goods. We have changed our operations at our after school centers and now give out food daily to families from our Manhattanville Cornerstone and Hunts Point Family Enrichment Center. We have also started curbside delivery for families who can’t easily get out because of their vulnerability to COVID or the difficulty of standing in long lines with multiple small children. We have developed a partnership with New York Common Pantry and created a system for curbside deliveries, including managing requests, mapping home deliveries, and dispatching drivers.
In addition to providing food, we have responded to parents’ emotional needs related to COVID-19. We have contracted with four consultants to provide online or phone therapeutic supports to parents who are experiencing anxiety. Typically, our mental health services are only for children and adolescents. With contributions from our donors, we have been able to offer help to parents who need either short-term support or bridge support until they are accepted by a mental health clinician.
Leveraging Technology for Remote Operations
Besides creating new ways to respond to the needs that have emerged as a result of social distancing, we have shifted our usual operations to make almost everything virtual. This has included child safety assessments, as much as possible, our child and adolescent mental health services, after school activities, such as online homework help and dance classes, and Graham SLAM and Family Success coaching. We have supported youth and their parents with adjusting to remote learning, including tutoring for youth and support for parents in how to support their children’s learning.
We found that 20 percent of our families did not have the needed technology (WiFi and/or tablets, computers or phones) to connect with us virtually, and because of the generosity of our donors, we have been able to give families the laptops, phones, and MiFi’s they need. This technology is not only important because of the connection with us; it is also a lifeline for families to be able to have social connections at all, and for children to be able to participate in distance learning.
Maintaining In-Person Supports Safely
At our Graham School residence in Hastings, we have continued caring for the youth who reside there. The school district with which we are affiliated also shifted to remote learning and staff continue to work on Campus to make sure youth have what they need. We have quelled anxieties for youth, kept them safe, and educated them about COVID-19.
Since Mayor de Blasio designated all human services staff working in programs under contract with the City as essential workers, we have been able to continue to move throughout the City to provide needed supports to kids and families. It also means that while most of our staff have shifted to virtual operations, some members of our team continue to risk exposure. As such, we have implemented a “gratitude pay” increase of $100/week for all staff who are working on-site at the Campus, operating in our community centers or schools, overseeing parent-child visits, or conducting home visits. If any staff work directly with a child or youth who has to be quarantined because of COVID-19 symptoms, they will receive an additional $150 per day. It is a relatively small symbol of our gratitude for our team in this very challenging moment.
Caring for our Essential Workers
Through the Wall-Gogel Graham Staff THRIVE Fund, launched by a generous gift from our Chairman of the Board, we have been able to help lift some of the financial burdens that staff are carrying as a consequence of COVID-19 in their personal lives, such as childcare and funeral expenses. To date, we have awarded 33 THRIVE grants to staff, which were disbursed on April 23, and have approved 24 new grants to disburse next pay period. We have also put in place wellness supports for all staff (such as Zoom mindfulness and support group sessions), procured PPE to promote their safety, and our Human Resources and training teams are continuing with the hiring and onboarding process via video conferencing. Additionally, we have ordered 5,000+ cloth masks that will be distributed to all of our staff and families for when it is deemed safe to re-open our community centers and offices and resume in-person programming.
Supplies and Services Provided to Date
- 3,000+ bags of groceries, baby formula, and basic necessities delivered to their homes or through onsite food distribution events at our community centers;
- 24/7 onsite care for our young people on Graham’s campus;
- Relocation services for our college students as well as academic assistance to keep them on track to graduation;
- Technology for remote tutoring, distance learning, and family support, including 285 laptops, 33 prepaid cell phones, and 149 MiFi’s with 3 months of connectivity;
- Onsite staff at our community center for kids in need of a safe haven; and
- Tele-therapy and online emotional support for 1,000+ families.
We are adjusting our response to this crisis on an ongoing basis, with thoughtfulness and deliberation, and by listening to guidance from our community members and government partners. While it is not clear what the timeframes and nature of the next phases of this will be, it is evident that the economic and emotional impact of this situation on the families we serve will have repercussions for some time. The generosity of our community of donors will continue to make an enormous difference in the lives of kids and families who have great needs.