In a recent report to the Elks Aidmore Board of Trustees, Chief Operations Officer Dr. Vickey Hale penned the following: “Growing, strengthening, and evolving are the adjectives that come to my mind while writing this report and reflecting on our agency over the last three months. Having worked in this field for over thirty years, nothing surprises me, and most days feel like I have heard and seen it all. A referral this past week proved my theory to be wrong when I reviewed a referral of an 11 yr. old boy whose mother had been sex trafficked by her parents (his grandparents), and it is believed that they were preparing him for the same. After reading the referral, my heart ached for this child and his future. Comfort came in knowing that if we place this child in the right foster home, his life could be changed. I was instantly reminded that what we do on a daily basis is not “run a business” but fulfill a mission. We are changing lives and its hard work. We are making a difference, and the children and families that we serve are better because our agency exists.”
Six months ago, very few of us could have imagined the impact COVID would have on our personal lives, our businesses, our country, and the world. It is a continual challenge as we carve out a “new normal” in our daily lives. The impact to Aidmore has been significant. Virtual learning has become the norm for school systems. The Aidmore residential program in Conyers hired two part-time staff members in August to help implement the educational model for Rockdale County Schools, in addition to providing staff support coverage during the school day. Foster parents across the state are being challenged with virtual learning options, especially in areas where internet access is inadequate. Some administrative personnel and the majority of staff in our Therapeutic Foster Care programs have been working remotely since mid-March and will likely continue to do so through the end of this year. Most interactions with foster parents have been virtual. Traditional methods of recruiting foster parents have all but disappeared. When the agency recruitment is successful, state approval mechanisms for accepting these foster homes have been slowed by the shortage of staff working in the DFCS central offices. With so many individuals and families in quarantine and isolation, there are collateral impacts as well: increases in mental health issues, substance abuse, suicides, domestic violence calls, and the number of child abuse reports. Tragically, the number of child abuse reports will still be under-reported, and many will not be investigated because of COVID-19 and staff shortages. School personnel, because of their mandate to report, are the primary reporters of child abuse. Since many schools are introducing virtual learning, school personnel are not witnessing and/or reporting suspected child abuse situations. As a result, children and families are not receiving the interventions and supports they desperately need. And the list goes on and on.
On a positive note, our staff remain committed to providing quality services to the children and youth in our care. Residential staff continue to care for our youth without complaint. Our TFC staff have adapted to working remotely and virtually meeting with foster parents and one another. We have developed a TFC page for foster parents and are researching Google grants to gain further recruitment opportunities. COO Vickey Hale is expanding Kaleidacare to allow for digital client file management.
Through this process, we are learning to create new ways of doing business. We plan to carry some of these changes with us into the future. Perhaps the most impactful of all of these is the ability of our staff to work remotely while maintaining a connectedness to the agency and a high quality of care for our kids and families.
Elks Aidmore has experienced expense/revenue shifts due to many factors: postponement of the Golf Fore Kids tournament; cancellation of the annual Aidmore Auction; significant reduction in the value of the Trust Accounts; increased costs to provide daytime coverage for youth in residential care due to a virtual school semester; and, the inability to recruit foster parents during this period of quarantine and social-distancing. A decrease of referrals, combined with challenges in foster parent recruitment and retention, have resulted in fewer placements for the upcoming months.
To offset the anticipated losses, and with approval from the Executive Committee, Elks Aidmore submitted a Paycheck Protection Program application through our local bank. The funds are specifically designated by the federal government for payroll, health insurance, retirement benefits, leases, and utilities. According to the legislation, businesses who secure a loan can have the loan “forgiven” (in essence, turning it into a grant) if they maintain the same number of employees they had at the time of the application and have not reduced employee compensation by more than 25%. Only 4% of all PPP loans went to non-profit organizations.
In an effort to secure additional funding resources, the Aidmore Charitable Trust was officially filed as a Corporation with the Secretary of State on July 27th and final paperwork has been submitted to the Internal Revenue Service for 501c3 status as a non-profit. The intent of the Aidmore Charitable Trust is to garner financial support from communities in which the Elks Aidmore offices are located. A separate bank account, as required by the IRS, will be established for the Trust. Signers will include Steve Petrie (Treasurer), Andrea Fronek (Elks Aidmore Business Manager) and myself. Initial officers of the new Aidmore Charitable Trust are:
Bruce Hayden President and Secretary 1-year term
Gina Sweenie Vice-President 2-year term
Steve Petrie Treasurer 3-year term
These continue to be challenging times on many levels. The leadership of Aidmore is working diligently to streamline programs while continuing to provide high quality services efficiently and effectively. There is a little doubt changes are on the way to position Elks Aidmore to become more financially sustainable in the future. Our job, as Dr. Hale wrote, is to “fulfill a mission…we are making a difference, and the children and families that we serve are better because our agency exists”. Let’s work together to be solution-focused and make Aidmore stronger and more resilient post-COVID. We can make a difference by turning outward instead of inward, giving instead of getting, serving rather than being served. “Healing hearts, restoring hopes, and rebuilding lives” are the sole reasons for our existence.