March 12, 2020

Report from Seattle: YouthCare

Jody Waits, Development and Communications Officer, YouthCare

YouthCare's Development and Communications Officer Jody Waits on managing with a reduced staff, making adjustments to standard protocols, and responding to offers to help.

Everyone’s trying to do the right thing, and there’s no guidebook.

Jody Waits, Development and Communications Officer, YouthCare

On March 6th we talked to Jody Waits, the development and communications officer of Seattle-based YouthCare, about how the nonprofit is coping with COVID-19. Jody talked about how the first week of the crisis unfolded, including her nonprofit’s efforts to manage with a reduced staff, make adjustments to its standard protocols, and respond to people’s offers to help.

Organization Overview

Founding year: 1974

Revenue: $15.4 million (2018)

Primary funding source(s): approximately two-thirds government grants and contracts

Field: Youth services

Description: Through a combination of individualized services tailored to young people’s needs and a trusting relationship with a caring adult, YouthCare ensures that young people experiencing homelessness achieve long-term stability. Its programs include: prevention, shelter and housing, engagement, employment, and education. In 2018 YouthCare served over 1,300 young people, including over 700 youth and young adults who accessed shelter.

This week the goal has been survival—quell fears, share information, and get supplies out. Next week we’ll need to manage it—keeping as many services running as possible, getting all hands on deck (for those who are well). The week after that, we need to sustain it. But we can’t sustain this forever. What’s especially difficult is the x factor of how long this will last. We can change anything short-term, but it’s hard to alter our practices long term.

No one has coronavirus yet, but a third of our staff are feeling some kind of impact. This includes having to stay home because they have a cold or the flu, or taking care of a child because the day care has closed. What we’re seeing will get much worse if Seattle Public Schools close. In a team of 50, we could easily be down more than a quarter of our staff at the start of the day. All of our systems assume that a lot of the time people work through illness. So we’re going to look harder at the mobility of available staff around our different programs.

We’re making adjustments—terminating new volunteer intake and training until April, implementing more disinfecting cycles in our facilities. We used to run two shelters for minors, but had already consolidated into a single building. Now we’re loaning that second building to the county to house people as part of the emergency response.

We had to move our annual fundraiser from this spring to next October. The good news is we got a new date that works for us, and the hotel let us transfer dates—no fees. October is a long time to wait, and we have to patch together the cash flow assumptions, so we’re working on that. But we’ve also had inquiries from foundations and corporate partners about what we need right now—ranging from $5,000 for supplies to someone offering to open their checkbook and have a conversation with us about what we need to get through this okay.

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