Alternatives For Girls has remained open throughout the pandemic, operating our crisis center, shelter, and conducting all of our services in the safest way possible. Our crisis center welcomes women and girls who are homeless, victims, or survivors of sex trafficking or otherwise at risk, each day.
While some of our services can be conducted remotely, such as case management and tutoring, our crisis and shelter services cannot.
Our saving grace has been that we were fortunate to be recipients of a Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) forgivable loan, part of Congress’ CARES Act; it has been a godsend for us. Our expenses have increased in some very significant ways since the pandemic hit, and so the PPP has been crucial, especially when it was decided to extend the time period within which people could use those funds.
PPP loan goes through mid-October. We’re paying premium wages, as well we should, for those who are doing our frontline work, working in the shelter, the crisis resource center, and otherwise working directly with girls and young women seeking help, because these staff members are facing some risk despite our commitments to the highest safety standards possible.
Our staff team members are critical; they have the training and experience with our mission and with those we serve; they are the ones fulfilling our mission during this difficult time. Some had to stop coming into work because of illness—their own or that of family members they were caring for.
We’ve also purchased, and have been given, a great deal of personal protection equipment (PPE), which is greatly needed, not just by our staff team but also by those we serve. Our staff members are driving all over the community, delivering food and PPE, cleaning supplies, and other needed goods to the girls and young women with whom we are working, and their families.
These, of course, are additional, unbudgeted expenses, along with the costs of the intense cleaning we are doing throughout our building, and additional cleaning supplies as well.
We have also been working to sustain and build our connections with those whom we need to serve virtually; to help the girls and women connect to the internet, and stay engaged with our program staff, as well as access other resources and connections that they need.
The Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) provided Chromebooks with internet connectivity to students (with help from lots of generous individual and foundation support), but that wasn’t completed until June, and many of those with whom we work attend charter schools, hence received less or delayed equipment.
Barriers to adequate internet connectivity persist, e.g. weak connections, and multiple family members sharing equipment. Parents need to be able to use the internet to safely search for jobs, information about the pandemic, and how to stay safe, how, when, and where to shop and to find food.
The families we serve in the community are extremely stressed out at this point and are under mounting pressure from the combination of the pandemic and economic crises.
Everything that can be done remotely at Alternatives for Girls, is being done remotely. We’re doing a lot of our outreach by phone and virtual meetings, including small groups for support, peer leadership, and education, etc.
We have brought together girls—middle school through high school—led by our staff, to participate in virtual college visits and other “travel”, including international “travel”, which has been a great deal of fun for our participants. We have been working to keep the girls in our program on track in school, and engaged in continuing to explore and plan, long-term, for post-secondary education options.
It remains possible, although challenging in new ways, to conduct all of our programs and services. Another pandemic-related trend is that we are seeing a rise in domestic violence incidents, through calls, webchats, and in-person visits to our crisis resource center. As has been covered recently by various media, under lockdown circumstances, family and interpersonal stress from different and new directions exacerbate already problematic dynamics and often lead to rises in domestic violence and abuse of all kinds.
We continue to welcome girls and young women who are homeless. Our goals remain to keep our shelter and all of our services going full-tilt, and to fulfill our mission, even if we have to approach some aspects of our work in creative ways and to continue to be there for the girls and women who need us.
Amy Good is the founder and executive director of Alternatives For Girls, a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless and high-risk girls and young women avoid violence, teen pregnancy, and exploitation, and help them to explore and access the support, resources, and opportunities necessary to be safe, to grow strong and to make positive choices in their lives. Stay tuned for her next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.