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COVID-19 is heavily impacting Lancaster County's nonprofit organizations. Here are their stories. [update]

Lancaster Examiner - Flu of 1918 Lancaster Day Nursery

Lancaster Early Education Center, then called Lancaster Day Nursery, was closed  in the fall of 1918 during the spread of the influenza pandemic, according to this article from The Lancaster Examiner on Oct. 23, 1918. The nonprofit's space was used by the Lancaster chapter of the Red Cross. Now, the organization is shut down amid the spread of another pandemic, COVID-19.

Lancaster County’s nonprofit organizations are being impacted heavily by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s an update on how some of them are grappling with the crisis.


Lighthouse Vocational Services

Kirt Barden isn’t sure when Lighthouse Vocational Services, in New Holland, can open its doors again. 

The organization, founded in 1975, focuses on providing vocational services for persons with developmental disabilities in New Holland.

“We don’t even know if we’ll be open in May,” said Barden, the chief executive officer. The organization typically follows the schedule of the school system, and since Gov. Tom Wolf extended school through the end of the academic year, Lighthouse’s future is left up in the air. 

However, Lighthouse staff have figured out how to pivot in the COVID-19 era and still offer some services to their members.

On Thursday, April 16, Lighthouse began offering online courses in arts and crafts, music, exercise, devotions and other topics after being approved by Lancaster County’s Office of Developmental Programs. 

“It’s a whole new paradigm shift, but it’s exciting,” Barden said in a voice message. 

When LNP | LancasterOnline spoke to Barden at the end of March, he said that if the center did not open in May to generate revenue, it may not be feasible to open up by June.  

Lighthouse typically generates about 70% of its revenue through the office of Medicaid and since the organization has been shut down for over a month, there have been no billable hours that employees have worked with members during that time. The new online programming will generate some revenue, but not a significant amount, Barden said. 

In addition, starting costs just to re-open the center could be about $100,000, he said. 

If the organization remains closed through May, “that would be disastrous, it would be really tough and we would need some help because of that,” Barden said.

With the exact date of when stay-at-home restrictions will be lifted and when Lighthouse can open unknown, the organization is doing what it can control -- the staff is aggressively getting the online programming started to reach their members at their homes, Barden said.


Hope Within Ministries

“We are hurting, and I just want to pass that along.”

Anne Marie McAlester has been one of two staff members, herself and a head nurse, who have been holding down the fort at Hope Within Ministries during the coronavirus pandemic’s spread.

The Elizabethtown nonprofit offers free primary care services, including counseling services, to uninsured low income residents of Lancaster, Lebanon and Dauphin counties. A dental service was scheduled to launch this month but has been postponed.

McAlester, executive director, said that if her office didn’t stay open, the over 300 patients who receive services from Hope Within would have nowhere else to go.

So, even with all nonessential personnel working from home and many of the organization’s physicians — all volunteers — working remotely, McAlester and her head nurse have continued to see patients every day.

Counseling sessions have been converted to a teletherapy model, except for office visits for a few clients who do not have access to the technology. Medication refills at the small dispensary on-site haven’t stopped.

Patients are screened ahead of time, so individuals who present any respiratory symptoms, sore throat or fever are referred to Lancaster General Hospital or Penn State Hershey for triage, McAlester said.

The clinic is seeing only patients who need medication refills or things like urinary tract infections that need immediate assistance. Medical issues that aren’t COVID-19 still require attention, she said, adding “We’re screening very, very heavily for symptoms or exposure before we allow them in.”

Funding is currently the organization’s biggest stressor.


VisionCorps

VisionCorps has scaled back its operations significantly, but some of the organization’s work is considered essential, so it’s powering through.

While the nonprofit has suspended most of its services, the organization continues to operate product lines deemed life-sustaining by current government mandates — packaging food and protective gear for the military and supplying sanitation products to federal prisons.

VisionCorps serves more than 2,000 individuals who are blind or vision impaired in Lancaster, Lebanon, York, Adams and Chester counties, through rehabilitation services and/or employment opportunities, in addition to other programs.

On the open production lines, the nonprofit has taken measures to ensure the continued safety and health of employees, said Dennis Steiner, president and CEO. The production lines have been adjusted and equipment added to ensure employees remain 6 feet apart.

Because some of the organization’s employees are potentially high risk for COVID-19, the production department is currently down by 30-40% of the regular employees on the line. However, staff from different departments have been filling in to keep production on schedule to deliver the increased demands they are seeing during this time, especially for sanitation products.

Employees have been laid off and projects suspended in other branches of the organization, Steiner said.


Lancaster Farmland Trust

The Lancaster Farmland Trust is trying something new during the coronavirus outbreak to educate the community about the organization’s work. It has turned to interactive webinars and other online programs to educate about the agricultural ecosystem in the region.

“It’s really forced us to look at our communication strategy and how we have to alter that based on our situation,” said Jeff Swinehart, chief operating officer.

The trust has closed its physical location and all staff are communicating with farmers and the community by phone and email. All in-person interactions have been stopped.

The nonprofit’s mission is to preserve agricultural land, while also working to conserve the land, water and wildlife throughout the county. So, its work is split between working in the office and going into the field to visit with farmers and work on conservation projects.

According to Swinehart, the trust has shifted its fundraising efforts from soliciting for its own organization to figuring out how to provide the benefit to the community so they can go out and support local farmers.


Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run of Lancaster & Lebanon Counties is grappling with a challenge many running groups and events are now dealing with: How do you organize virtual practices and races?

The organization was gearing up for its largest season yet, 1,400 girls and 430 coaches divided into 95 teams across the counties. Now, because of COVID-19, the season has been canceled.

In addition, almost all of the $127,000 collected for program fees will be returned to the participating families, unless the families decide to donate the fee amount.

Still, the season will still go on virtually. For free.

The virtual program will have three components:

— Girls on the Run at home: Several weeks of curated workout plans that families can do together to keep the girls on a schedule.

— #GOTRGotYourBack: A social media push to get people beyond the program to be active.

— Virtual connection: A way for coaches to interact with the girls on their teams throughout the program.

Beyond this season, the club is already planning its first-ever summer running camp, for rising third- through fifth-graders at the end of June, and the fall season.


Lancaster Early Education Center

As the 1918 influenza pandemic was sweeping through the country, Lancaster Early Education Center, then called Lancaster Day Nursery, was closed for over three weeks by order of the Lancaster City Board of Health as a measure to contain the virus that killed over 600 people throughout the county.

The childcare facility was used by the Lancaster Chapter of the Red Cross to care for children who were either recovering from the pandemic or had lost their parents to it, said Nina Morange, chief executive officer.

Now, 102 years later, the center is closed again amid the spread of another pandemic, COVID-19.

Hearing about the closure during the flu of 1918 was encouraging news to the center's employees, said Morange. “We've been through this before and we'll get through it again.”

The early education center was established in 1915 as a nonprofit childcare and early education facility in Lancaster city with a mission to serve children from low-income, working families and give parents an affordable option for childcare to enable them to work.

In response to COVID-19, the center has been closed since Monday, March 16. The organization was able to pay employees for the first week, but as the closure stretched, the nonprofit furloughed all 30 employees. Still, its ability to stretch the existing budget is being tested.

The center decided not to charge parents any fees during the closure and is waiting to hear back from many financial sources if most of the programming will continue to be funded, Morange said.

“That's been the most frustrating thing,” she said. “And I get it, there are a ton of unknowns, so to make a commitment to continue to keep paying a grant or not is I'm sure as much of a challenge for the funders.”

And asking for donations at a time when many people are trying to secure the resources they have is difficult, she said.

If the closure doesn't end in the next few months, “it could definitely be devastating,” Morange said. “For morale, for finances, for everything, it would just be devastating.”

Still, the organization is committed to reopening as soon as possible, she said.

For now, Morange and the director will continue to take turns feeding the rabbits, the fish and the guinea pigs in the more than one dozen classrooms until the students return.


Church World Service

On March 17 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration announced that they would be temporarily halting all refugee resettlement throughout the world due to COVID-19.

Immediately, four arrivals to Church World Service Lancaster were canceled, and travel for 19 individuals was suspended. One family had a “travel by date” of March 19, Sheila Mastropietro, Lancaster office director, said in an interview on March 20.

The temporary halt is supposed to last through April 6. However, a disruption in travel can often mean months of delay as clearances start to expire and paperwork needs to be redone.

“We don't know what will happen in the next quarter,” Mastropietro said. “We feel like lifting the suspension on April 6th is a little optimistic, I'm sure they'll reevaluate closer to the date.”

For now, funding streams are secure for the nonprofit. However, resettlement programs are funded based on how many people they serve, so although the Lancaster office was on track to meet projected numbers for the year, this suspension of services could create a budget shortfall if all of its cases are not re-booked in time.

The spring breakfast fundraiser has been postponed from June to the beginning of September.

The resettlement office in Lancaster has also had to physically adapt to working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All staff in the resettlement program, employment and immigration programs have been moved to work remotely, Mastropietro said. The only services staff will do in-person are emergency medical appointments, of which they have had none so far. Typically, mandatory services have been postponed with the permission of the Bureau of Populations, Refugees and Migration in the U.S. Department of State.

“All clients have a way to get in touch with us through case managers,” Mastropietro said.

Staff are using WhatsApp to share flyers and links of translated instructions and advisories about COVID-19. In addition, the organization is using its presence on Facebook to reach out to clients.

“Thank goodness for all this technology," Mastropietro said.

It has been a challenge to get across the seriousness of the pandemic situation to clients and keep consistent contact from afar, while still trying to meet their physical needs, Mastropietro said.

“Some brave and committed staff were out on Thursday and Friday making no-contact deliveries of food and supplies to our newest refugees,” she said in an email Saturday. Included with the food deliveries were flyers related to COVID-19 in different languages.

Still, it must be disorienting for newly arrived families, Mastropietro said, to start settling into their new lives and immediately be told to not leave their homes due to a viral pandemic.


Bright Side

Bright Side Opportunities Center is closed due to COVID-19.

That means no basketball games, group exercise classes, weekend events or church services until the order to shut down non life sustaining businesses is lifted.

“Programming (during COVID-19) has changed because we don't have any,” said Willonda McCloud, president and CEO.

The impact of COVID-19 is “overarching and far-reaching," McCloud said.

Not only have the multitude of services held in the building been canceled, revenue-generating events held in the space have also been canceled, potentially delivering the hardest financial hit to the nonprofit. In addition, its annual health fair fundraiser has been postponed.

Because Bright Side acts as a community hub, the building always had donated food available for pick-up in the lobby for anyone who walked through the building.

During any given week, about 150 people will receive food through those donations, McCloud said.

“We have not been able to accept any donations, which means that we're not feeding most of the people we were feeding before,” she said. “Which is really challenging.”

During this time, the community center's staff are working and using the lull as a chance to clarify their roles and their goals, McCloud said. And as long as staff can work from home and depending on what federal assistance is available for nonprofits during this time, the impact to employees could be minimal.

“If that is not the case, like everyone else, potential layoffs and furloughs can happen,” McCloud said. “If we go six to eight weeks, that's quite challenging. I don't know where we will end up at that point.”

For now, the community can stay engaged with Bright Side through Facebook — from reading updates on the situation to following along with the quarantine friendly online fitness classes offered every day at 3 p.m. or yoga classes every Monday and Wednesday at noon.


Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic

When the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued an order that no dentists can practice unless they can provide care in a negative environment room that contains any airborne contaminants, the work at Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic immediately came to a screeching halt.

The clinic’s website says that “ALL” onsite treatments will be postponed until April 3. For now.

When Liz Prada, executive director and pediatric dentist, spoke to LNP|LancasterOnline on Thursday March, 26, she had just returned home from doing an emergency tooth extraction at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

“We cannot provide any dental care, emergency or otherwise, on site at the clinic,” she said. Even cleft surgeries are on hold indefinitely because they are considered to be an elective procedure.

The state department of health took extreme precautions because the tools used in dental work could increase the infection capacity of even an asymptomatic patient. The air/water syringe alone could spray bacteria in the air that could remain for up to three hours and potentially infect an entire office, Prada said.

“It's (COVID-19) going to have a very profound impact on the entire dental profession,” she said.

As of last week, the clinic had to universally furlough its staff — which includes over two dozen pediatric and dental providers, nurses, speech-language pathologists, a feeding specialist, audiologist, social workers, technicians and dental assistants — because the organization's operating income has dropped to almost zero and there is no end in sight for the closure.

“We can do telehealth, but it's tough because so much of what we're doing is looking into the mouth of a baby or the ear of an infant," Prada said.

Whenever the clinic reopens, there will be a tremendous backlog of procedures, Prada said. With one in every 700 babies born with a cleft palate, there will still be many people in need of the clinic's services, she said.

In the meantime, Prada encourages anyone who is in the position to support nonprofits financially during this time to do so.

And while the shutdown of dental offices continues, Prada stresses the importance of self care and preventative medicine.