Ypsi nonprofits find new ways to address community needs during pandemic

Ypsilanti- and Ypsilanti Township-based nonprofits are responding to the COVID-19 crisis in a variety of ways, from providing online programming to ramping up gardening programs to passing out cleaning supplies.


Grace Fellowship Church House of Solutions and its nonprofit Community Family Life Center (CFLC) initially discontinued some community programs because staff felt they couldn't continue safely. But the church's pantry program is now back up and distributing food twice a month, and online counseling will be offered sometime in early June.

Pastor Willie Powell and First Lady Geraldine Powell.

The CFLC recently secured a United Way of Washtenaw County COVID-19 Community Relief Fund grant allowing the Ypsi Township nonprofit to provide free virtual care and counseling services, in conjunction with licensed counselors from Collaborative ChangeMakers, for area residents who are struggling with mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.


"I know a number of pastors who have lost their lives. It's hard. People are dying alone in the hospital because nobody can visit, and some people can't go to the cemetery," says Grace Fellowship Pastor Willie Powell.


He notes that others are stressed being stuck at home with no income after losing jobs, and domestic violence cases have surged.


The grant will allow for group counseling online, with one-on-one counseling available for those who need it. Powell can also provide spiritual counseling to those who want it. The virtual counseling will continue for up to six months or as long as social distancing is recommended. Anyone interested in these free counseling services can find out more by checking the CFLC's website for updates or emailing wpowell@cflcypsi.org.


Student Advocacy Center


At Ypsi-based Student Advocacy Center (SAC), executive director Peri Stone-Palmquist says the pandemic has forced programming to go virtual, a move she has mixed feelings about. SAC works with students in Michigan who experience barriers to staying in school, from student discipline issues to homelessness.


"It feels really strange for us, because we spend so much time advocating that students not be in virtual online settings, [because of] how challenging that is for the students we work with," she says.


She notes that Ann Arbor Public Schools-developed rubrics for who might benefit from online learning assume "a certain tech savviness and level of independence and motivation and a certain literacy level." She adds that even those who have higher levels of computer literacy would benefit from having a supportive adult on hand if something goes wrong with the technology.

SAC mentor Al Correa prepares to make a delivery to a client.

SAC staff are all working from home, checking in virtually with every student they serve and making deliveries of food, hygiene products, and literacy packets provided by the Children's Literacy Network.


Due to a partnership with the Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth, SAC was able to get toilet paper and dish soap to families. Donors have allowed SAC to deliver laptops, tablets, and other technological tools to clients who need them. SAC staff are also running background checks on volunteers so they can get virtual tutoring up and running.


SAC staff created a number of online groups that students can participate in, including a self-care group for older students, a physical fitness group on Fridays, a poetry and spoken word group on Thursdays, and a parent support group. The nonprofit was also forced to move its annual storytelling and fundraising event, Telling Tales Out of School, to a virtual format, set for May 22.


We the People Opportunity Farm


We the People Opportunity Farm (previously We the People Opportunity Center) has made a few changes to its volunteer and farming methods to comply with social distancing protocols, but the biggest pandemic-related change is where food grown on the farm will be donated.


With support from United Way of Washtenaw County, the organization shifted the majority of its focus away from selling produce to local restaurants in order to support the nonprofit's work.

We the People Opportunity Farm manager Marly Spieser-Schneider and executive director Melvin Parson.

"We're making sure we're sending the bulk of the produce we grow to the tables of folks impacted by food scarcity, especially fresh food scarcity, in the Sugarbrook neighborhood," says executive director Melvin Parson. "We love the relationships we've forged with our restaurant friends, but we also understand that it's almost our obligation to be the best community partner we can be."


Corner Health Center


Corner Health Center is still open and treating its target audience of young people ages 12 to 25, but the health nonprofit is no longer accepting walk-in patients and social distancing protocols are being enforced.


"We only allow so many in the building at a time, and there are temperature checks for everyone who comes in," says Kamilah Davis-Wilson, community outreach and youth development manager for the center. Staff aren't treating any confirmed COVID-19 cases, but anyone who is sick is asked to put on a mask and come through a different entrance, just in case.


Both physical and mental health appointments have been shifted online. Anyone who doesn't have a computer or reliable internet access can come into the building and use one of the center's computers for a virtual visit.


Corner staff also sent a mass text to more than 500 patients, letting them know that cleaning kits, with materials supplied by Washtenaw County, can be picked up contact-free at the center or delivered to patients' porches. The kits include a pamphlet with information about how to stay healthy during the pandemic. Davis-Wilson says about 15 kits were delivered to porches and more were picked up at the center on the first day of distribution last week.

Corner Health Center has offered cleaning kits to its patients.

Davis-Wilson says Corner's food pantry is seeing fewer visitors, but it's still up and running. Because home gardening has become popular during the pandemic, Corner also partnered with local gardening nonprofit Growing Hope to set up a table where visitors can pick up seeds and gardening kits so they can grow flowers and vegetables at home.


Nonprofits find new ways to serve


These are just a few of the COVID-19-inspired changes in Ypsi's nonprofit landscape. At Hope Clinic, the medical and social work teams are doing check-ins by phone, helping patients manage their care at home, assisting clients in navigating applications for SNAP or unemployment, and providing mental health care support. Hope food programs have adjusted to meet demand, which has more than tripled, with six days of walk-up groceries; five nights of hot, carry-out meals; and grocery delivery to homebound community members.

Hope Clinic food programs have adjusted to meet demand, which has more than tripled.

Growing Hope has expanded its Home Vegetable Garden Program due to the growing demand for home gardening supplies. Telling It, a creativity and self-expression program for youth, has started hosting online sessions on Thursdays and delivering art kits to students' homes. UNIFIED, a local HIV health nonprofit, has launched virtual programming, including working with the Ypsilanti District Library to do youth hangouts regarding substance abuse, a problem that's on the rise during the pandemic. UNIFIED is also providing substance use recovery Zoom meetings for both adults and teens.


"This year has shown us that people can come together and work together for the community," Davis-Wilson says. "It's been exciting to be able to provide all these things to patients and the community."

For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
Photos courtesy of sources.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.