IFF: How did COVID-19 and the related shutdowns affect your organization?
Alexander: COVID has had a really big impact on us. We are contracted by the state to provide child care referrals to families in need of child care. As you can imagine, with the onset of the pandemic, the focus really shifted to the children of essential workers. We cover six counties, with Milwaukee being our largest territory, and we were tasked with communicating with various health departments, medical personnel, HR departments at hospitals, and other health care-related areas to assist with helping to place the children of those essential workers to make sure they could go to work and take care of our community. It was definitely an all-hands-on deck situation, and all of our staff who normally work in other areas actually shifted to assist in that effort.
Our staff has continued to jump into action to meet different needs as they develop. We started with referrals to place the children of essential workers, but then our focus shifted to ensuring that childcare programs had the PPE supplies they needed to care for children. The Department of Children and Families requested supplies from FEMA, which eventually came – but then the question was “who can house and distribute these supplies?” We offered our building and our services to ensure the providers in our service delivery area had the PPE supplies they needed to provide care to children.
That building was actually financed by IFF. We bought it about two years ago after we rented in the same neighborhood for a couple of decades. Our Board always talked about purchasing a space, instead of throwing money away on rent, but when we first looked into purchasing a building our bank was unable to finance a mortgage loan for us because we were a nonprofit and we relied heavily on government funding. A colleague told us about IFF, and they made it happen – walking us through the process step-by-step to give us the assistance we needed to get it done. We have felt very fortunate to be able to get our forever home in a place that’s centrally located, accessible, and in the neighborhood we’ve always called home. But that space also allowed us to house those FEMA supplies for our early childhood education providers. We were able to say to our many partners “We have this beautiful 14,000-square-foot building that’s underutilized right now because all our staff are now providing service remotely, so bring it on over!”
That space allowed us to house FEMA supplies for our early childhood education providers. We were able to say to our many partners “We have this beautiful 14,000-square-foot building that’s underutilized right now because all our staff are now providing service remotely, so bring it on over!”
With our physical offices closed to the public, we also were presented with a whole new set of challenges for how to provide direct services without being directly in front of individuals. For example, we are approved through the state to provide entry-level training and continuing education to child care providers – but they typically only allow that training to be done in-person because it’s very hands-on. We had to put in a special request to be able to offer that training virtually during the pandemic because we still need to have trained providers. It took us a couple of months to get the approval, make sure our staff were ready to provide training that way, communicate with all our providers about it, and then provide technical assistance to our families and providers to make sure they could access the virtual format.
Of course, not all of our programs could continue at full capacity. Some things really have to be done in person – like court-ordered parenting classes and supervised visitation. But with the city ordinances regarding reduced occupancy and social distancing, that’s affected our revenues and made it difficult to sustain our business model.
IFF: Why did you decide to pursue a PPP loan, and how do you think it will help your agency?
Alexander: The PPP funding definitely afforded us the opportunity to retain the staff who are not fully supported under a specific grant, and who weren’t able to continue their typical fee-for-service work that’s lessoned during the pandemic. These staff members were re-purposed to assist with critical projects, such as placing the children of essential workers in child care and making sure child care centers received PPE.
IFF: What was your experience like in getting the PPP loan?
Alexander: I was reading about PPP and discussed the option with my Board of Directors. We were undecided because at that time enough of our funding remained in place so that we didn’t have to make any cuts. But I talked with Darian Luckett at IFF, and he said: “Well, you don’t know what the future holds. You don’t really have anything to lose here. You’ll have the funding if you need it.”
Initially, we were going through our current banking institution, and I was really deterred from even applying because I was jumping through so many hoops and I was not getting any answers. I was also hearing from partner agencies that they were having the same experience. But when Darian connected with me, it was like night and day. He was so responsive. It was very surprising and eye-opening to me the difference in service that I received from one versus the other. Afterwards, I went on every committee, group, and social media that I’m on and made sure to say that if you are a nonprofit, you should work with IFF and CRF. It was pretty amazing.
IFF: What’s one thing you’ve learned in this climate?
They say it takes a community. The pandemic has truly brought that to life. We all need to band together to get through this.