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David Dallas is the Chief Executive Officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Mississippi Delta

Mississippi nonprofits finding new ways to help communities

The Mississippi Delta Boys & Girls have had to close their doors during the Covid-19 crisis, but club members and staff are finding creative ways to stay in touch.

By LISA MONTI

Organizations and nonprofits working to help community members of all ages are working remotely as they try to maintain contact during this stay-at-home pandemic. The arrangements aren’t ideal but managers say they’re making good use of technology to carry out their missions.

The Court Appointed Special Advocates of Hancock County  work with abused and neglected children in the county court system and arranges safe living arrangements for them. The staff and volunteers are continuing to check in with the children by telephone and video conferencing. Executive director Cynthia Chauvin said they are finding ways to maintain and build connections through the utilization of technology.

“We are certainly learning to adapt regarding our ways of communication and our methods. Volunteers are having in some instances more frequent contact than before and they are able to develop an even greater rapport with the child. Our children aren’t used to consistency so having their CASA volunteer check in on them via phone and by video chat during a time like this shows to the child that they matter and that the volunteer is truly in their corner,” Chauvin said.

The new way of doing things is starting to become familiar, she said.

“At this point we are getting to more of a comfortable level with technology and adapting our daily activities around it. Our physical office may be closed but court hearings are happening virtually, our volunteers are participating in these hearings and still drafting court reports to ensure that the child’s best interest is conveyed during the court process,” she said.

CASA’s Cynthia Chauvin

The CASA staff provides vital guidance to the volunteer advocates, Chauvin said, “ as they assist them in navigating the system as well as the ways we are having to adapt our practices during this time of social distancing.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Mississippi Delta has adopted several ways of serving the young people who belong to or use  nine club sites which are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a new website where new videos and updates are posted weekly. There’s also a free app developed by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America that accesses games and other activities. The app is available to any young people, not just club members. The organization also provides virtual lessons through the Zoom and Facebook video capabilities to help with homework and fitness. 

Executive director David Dallas said the nine clubs have almost 2,000 members and about 500 came at least a couple of times a week, if not every day. “Of that group we have reached out and done daily wellness checks, about 200 in two weeks. On top of that, 114 members are active in character development distance learning programs,” he said. Those are continuing on Facebook, Zoom conference or conference call.

He said the clubs have been closed in the past because of tornadoes “but we like to stay open when schools are closed. We want the kids to have a place to go.” Attendance almost doubles in the summertime, he said.

CASAs Disability Connection outreach includes participation in the annual Project Homeless Connect.

“The staff in spite of everything has really created a lot of interesting ideas in programing,” he said. They are emphasizing how to stay well and safe during the pandemic.

“The sad part is a lot of them don’t have internet access, the parents don’t have computers or have limited awareness of how to use it. At the clubs it’s all set up for them.”

During the pandemic closure, the online meetings are welcome by the  young club members. “When we do conference calls, they really like to see each other,” he said. “They miss each other.”

The concern for him now is paying the staff which normally is provided by grants based on the number of members who come to the clubs. But the communities have been helpful, he said. “So many people have reached out and asked how can we help.”

Disability Connection on the Mississippi Coast provides social support to residents through a variety of programs, events and outreach. It maintains the comprehensive Gulf Coast Community Resource Guide of free and reduced- cost services, supplies educational tools for professionals and hosts community events for people with disabilities, among other activities.

Clients usually come in by appointment but the staff is now working from home, taking turns checking in at the offices and fielding calls as usual from people looking for information or help with food or rent and medical equipment among other emergency needs, said program director Kathy Stafford.

“We have a couple of volunteers helping us get things out to people when we can,” she said.  “We are continuing to work, using social media and helping anybody who needs our assistance.”

During the pandemic, Disability Connection is “trying to help other nonprofits with outreach. We’re working together to provide what we can to help people. A lot of churches are helping as well.”

She said she’s been getting 15 to 20 calls a day from people who have no transportation or anyone to help them with food and other necessities. One woman called because the city had cut off her water and didn’t know who to call to get service restored. Kathy told her to call the mayor and within a few hours the water was back on. “People are already panicking and don’t know what to do,” she said. “Actually I just listen to a lot of people who are stuck at home and just want somebody to talk to.”

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About Lisa Monti