As for most, the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic seems both far away and like it was yesterday. For our team, the early days were about the mobilization of resources and pulling community stakeholders together to address immediate needs. Those first days and weeks proved just what United Ways were created to do. We exist to build a collaborative effort around addressing local needs, from ongoing issues to crisis response.
At Lubbock Area United Way, we immediately began working with our Community Partners and other area nonprofits. We partnered with local government, school districts, hospitals, and other community stakeholders. We supported grassroots efforts aiding essential workers. At the same time, we continued to work with our partners to ensure that the needs which existed before the Pandemic remained a priority.
The greatest tool in our toolbox is a table. Around a table, we pull people together to create equitable solutions for our most pressing issues. In the case of the Pandemic, our table may have been virtual, but it stretched from one end of the South Plains to the other.
We do not yet know the full effects of 2020, especially in areas like education and mental health. It will likely take several years to know the full impact. However, we created this report to share what we do know and to highlight the phenomenal work that started in March of 2020 and continues today.
South Plains COVID-19 Response Fund
On March 27, Lubbock Area United Way announced a partnership with the Community Foundation of West Texas to form the South Plains COVID-19 Response Fund. More than $1.6 million was donated to the fund by area businesses, foundations, and individuals, including significant contributions from The CH Foundation, the Helen Jones Foundation, United Way, and the Community Foundation of West Texas. In addition, the Lubbock banking community pooled its resources to commit $343,000 to the South Plains COVID-19 Response Fund. This extraordinary partnership proved their collective commitment to not only their customers but our South Plains communities as a whole. United Supermarkets also allowed their guests to give at the register. Together with a gift from the company, United Supermarkets customers gave $65,000 toward the Response Fund.
From the Response Fund, rapid response operating grants were given out to human service organizations with deep roots in the community and strong experience working with vulnerable populations. By supporting these organizations, we ensured that our South Plains neighbors received the help they needed whenever possible. Grants were awarded to nonprofits addressing the needs of individuals, families, and communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the economic consequences of the outbreak. Within 3 months, all funds had been distributed to 50 organizations with the first round of grants going out on April 6, 2020.
One of the first things United Way recognized was the need for a central location with up-to-date information from local government, school districts, hospitals, medical centers, grocery stores, and nonprofits providing direct services. While the information was available, it was spread across hundreds of different websites and social media platforms.
To address this need, United Way established a COVID-19 Response and Resource Center that staff kept updated daily throughout the early months of the Pandemic. Over time the virtual center grew to include resources for parents at home with their children, resources on mental health and accessing help, and even a COVID-19 dictionary to help dispel misinformation and define the many new terms we were all learning. United Way also shared these resources on its social media channels to increase access to the information.
The Response and Resource Center is still updated and available to the public.
COVID-19 Impact Grants
Thanks to special donations made from various corporate partners, United Way was able to provide additional one-time grants to a few of our Community Partners. Interested partners completed a grant application. Applications were then reviewed by members of United Way's Board of Directors and Community Impact Committee. Four Community Partners were selected to receive grants to assist with additional service needs created by the Pandemic.
At a crucial time when childcare was needed more than ever for many families, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lubbock used the impact grant to keep their Ted Phea and Optimist clubs open through the summer months. Although the summer program was operating differently than normal due to safety protocols and health guidelines, Boys and Girls Clubs were still able to provide a fulfilling summer program experience by providing several activities at each location. Without the assistance from the funding, the organization would not have been able to continue many programs such as art classes, social-distanced recreational activities, Kid LIT (reading program), and more while also keeping a safe clean sanitized environment. 117 youth participated in the summer programs at these clubs.
In light of the economic uncertainty created by the Pandemic, Communities in Schools of the South Plains (CIS) anticipated providing services to a record number of students affected by the loss of family income and other stabilizing factors in their lives. At-risk factors include low socioeconomic status, poor grades, failure to be promoted, limited English proficiency, poor attendance, and a history of disciplinary action. These students are extremely vulnerable to not only falling behind in their schoolwork and dropping out of school, but also of not having access to basic needs such as food, hygiene items, rent/utilities, and emotional and mental health support at home. Eighty percent of CIS students come from economically disadvantaged homes. CIS helped 539 students by:
- Providing basic needs and emergency financial assistance to students and families as funds permit.
- Staying “virtually” connected to provide academic support and monitor the mental health and well-being of students.
- Continuing student groups via Google Classroom and other platforms.
- Facilitation of school materials to parents.
- Connection of resources for families without Wi-Fi or computers.
- Food deliveries and referrals to community resources.
- Supporting school staff with either virtual students or in-school face to face students.
- Assist school administrators with student attendance.
- Focusing heavily on student re-engagement and all activities that promote that objective.
As a result of lost wages and lost jobs, many people who never thought they would ask for help suddenly needed assistance to pay for basic necessities like rent and utilities. The Salvation Army used grant funding to support their Homeless Prevention Services for working families impacted by COVD-19 in Lubbock and the surrounding areas. Through this grant, the organization provided 34 families with rent or utility assistance (10 utility and 24 instances of rent assistance) as a result of the loss of employment, reduction of work hours, barriers to child care, or any situation that impacted their ability to pay rent or utilities as a result of COVID-19. The average instance of assistance was $367 per family.
The YWCA of Lubbock was one of the few childcare centers for school-age children that never closed its doors. In fact, the organization expanded to provide full-day care for essential worker families through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Having worked with students during this time, the YWCA recognized the need to support educational objectives for youth throughout the summer months. The organization hired Lubbock ISD teachers to serve as tutors in reading and purchased the Scholastic reading curriculum. With a large emphasis on reading and math, Literacy Pro, an online reading and progress monitoring platform was purchased to administer an assessment before and after summer camp. Literacy Pro provided over 2,400 e-books for children to read and administered a quiz after every book. The quizzes assessed different elements of reading like comprehension, cause and effect, drawing conclusions, inferencing, and vocabulary. In total, it assessed 10 different elements of reading. After completing summer, the children retook the full assessment for a second time to see what their reading level was after 12 weeks of instruction and reading. In the initial testing, 82% of the youth enrolled were testing below their respective grade level. As a result of the instruction and utilization of the Literacy Pro Platform, 67 students out of the 107 who were consistent attendees, increased their reading scores resulting in a 63% increase in Lexile Score measurements and none of the children experienced the typical “summer slide.”
Highlighting the Work of Our Community Partners
While final numbers from United Way Community Partners are still being calculated, a few were able to share preliminary numbers for this report. In the coming months, the annual Agency Review Process will shed more light on the full scope of the work accomplished in 2020.
CASA of the South Plains advocates continued to serve as a voice for children in foster care despite not being able to make in-person visits to see children. The organization:
- Engaged in extensive virtual advocacy through increased contact with children – as often as weekly – via FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, and Duo video calls
- Participated in virtual court hearings to ensure continued representation of the child’s best interest in all legal decisions
- Sustained the number of children served year over year from 2019 to 2020
- Moved volunteer advocate recruitment and new volunteer advocate training online to virtual platforms and trained 62 new volunteer advocates in 2020
Early Learning Centers remained open throughout stay-at-home orders to provide much-needed child care for essential service families. Thanks to the centers' attention to hygiene, sanitation, and COVID-19 safety protocols, no children or staff have contracted COVID-19 while at the centers. Following the loss of jobs and wages for many families, Early Learning Centers was able to provide $6,000 in scholarships to families from September to December.
Family Counseling Services has seen over 700 mental health and substance abuse clients in person and via Zoom for Healthcare since the beginning of the Pandemic. Mental Health being a major concern throughout, the organization identified two worrying trends among their clients: couples are having a more difficult time than usual during the pandemic and individuals who struggle with substance abuse have backslid during the Pandemic.
Having always utilized a model of in-person classes and tutoring, Literacy Lubbock shifted services online through Zoom. Tutors and students found that the chat and screen share made it easy to read the material and work out problems together. The organization is now offering limited in-person tutoring in addition to the online service. 346 students completed 3,448.25 hours of study with the help of 193 volunteers.
They also shifted their Tiny Tots program to a home dropoff, distributing 8,284 books this year.
The Parenting Cottage re-trained its staff to deliver the majority of its services virtually including home visitation. Since March, the Parenting Cottage has delivered over 1,800 virtual home visits to families, including parenting education, early childhood education, screening for developmental milestones progress and delays. Through "porch deliveries", the organization provided families with developmental and learning toys, age-appropriate books, diapers, wipes, and some car seats. As funds were available, they assisted families with rent, groceries, and utilities. The Parenting Cottage also developed virtual groups to assist families, including virtual storytimes and activity hours.
Following stay-at-home orders, the organization restructured their group parenting classes, limiting the size of the class and utilizing plexiglass shields. Many of the families in these programs have court cases pending with CPS and needed to complete the parenting education requirements of their service plans.
In addition, the Parenting Cottage utilized Bright by Text and social media to share information about COVID-19 resources for families.
In addition to what the Salvation Army was able to accomplish with the COVID-19 Impact Grant provided by United Way, the organization increased efforts in other areas while maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness and safety precautions.
- March through June: 31,412 meals to the community
- March through June: 6,458 nights of shelter (with increased screening, sanitizing, social distancing)
- 329 instances of rent assistance to families impacted by COVID-19
- 127 instances of utility assistance to families impacted by COVID-19
- Over 750 Hope Totes provided to healthcare workers, families of healthcare workers, individuals and families in need, retirement communities in need, low-income communities, working families impacted by COVID-19
- 234 children provided with back-to-school assistance (clothing, backpacks, supplies)