Gem Studios held one of its Paint it Forward fundraisers on June 6 and directed the money raised to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Over a Zoom meeting Ty McClellan, area director, accepted the donation of $325. Donations are always appreciated but this year it came on the heels of the organization having to cancel its largest annual fundraiser.

“Bowl for Kids Sake is our single biggest statewide fundraiser of the year,” he said. “It accounts for about a third of our fundraising to support our operational budget. Losing that has been significant and has left us trying to remedy the situation through alternative fundraising events.”

Moving forward nonprofits are contending with no-gathering orders, which prevents large fundraisers and a shrinking economy. The businesses that sponsor and support the work of charities are hoping to make it through the pandemic with their doors open — sponsorship dollars are tight, he said.

To compound matters, community needs, which the nonprofits tend to, are increasing.

“Like all businesses, we too are continually being pressed to do more with less,” he said. “Coming out of this pandemic, the needs are expected to increase quite drastically.”

In addition to losing financial support, social distancing, or physical distancing as the Council for Nonprofits prefers to call it, has charities trying to balance safety with their missions.

“We can’t sacrifice the quality or the safety of our existing matches,” McClellan said. “Nor do we want to stop enrolling new youth or mentors.”

One-on-one relationships is the crux of Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

The mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters is to match youth facing adversity with caring adult mentors outside of their home. That description itself, calls for actions not allowed with COVID-19.

“The very basis for our program is to be able to meet in person,” he said. “While virtual, has proven to be very effective in navigating this pandemic there is no replacing the in-person meetings.”

Big Brothers, Big Sisters is not alone in its scrambling to figure out how to will move forward.

Jill Nelson, executive director of Delivering Change and her husband Dave was the ambassador family for the Kansas Infant Death and SIDS network in Wichita, Kansas for its Step Up For Kids.

The 5K run ended up being a virtual event. Instead of everyone gathering, running together, cheering each other on and having fellowship, participants did the run on their own and uploaded photos to social media.

“We weren’t able to all gather and talk,” she said. “Part of that is the social aspect of being together with other families. Dave and I are both on the board for the Kid’s Network — the fact that it wasn’t held in person, we actually had really good registration, but you still take a hit on your what you project is your bottom line”

Delivering Change’s annual community baby shower had to be canceled and she had to put a hold on the prenatal education classes. However, the need for the classes has not diminished. Starting July 6, Nelson said they will move them to a virtual format.

“We’re going to give it a whirl and see how it goes,” she said. “It’s really hard to interface with our patients and our clients, virtually. There’s just something about that face-to-face interaction.”

Fiscally Delivering Change is in a better position than some non-profits because they are a Kansas Permanent Health and Environment grantee, which provides them with a steady operating stream. Additionally, the Kansas Health Foundation freed up about $2.1 million for immediate relief funding, she said.

“We were fortunate … we applied for some of that and were lucky to be awarded some financial dollars there,” she said.

But the money nor Zoom meetings can replace the interaction people need — the hug, the smile, the one-on-one support, McClellan and Nelson said.

“There’s science and research behind what a hug can do,” Mclellan said.

The local BBBS has 130 active matches and 140 children on a waiting list to be matched with an adult mentor. While COVID-19 has disrupted his work, he continues to search out and match adults with children who need a positive influencer in their lives. Many of the children enrolled in the program live in poverty and often face some form of abuse, he said.

“We know there’s urgent needs, like when somebody needs food or mental care — I’m never going to downplay that kind of stuff — ever but what we try to tell people is when you invest in Big Brothers, Big Sisters, you are breaking generational cycles of poverty and abuse and you’re building a stronger community,” he said.

Moving forward nonprofits will have to get creative, work together and stay focused on their goals and the people they serve because at the end of the day — people and relationships are what is important, he said.

They are looking for ways for the mentors to stay in touch with their littles.

“They need that friendship,” McClellan said. “Friendship is not canceled during this time.”

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