By now, word of business closures across the county, state and country come as no surprise. But in a time of crisis, those businesses have unified, adapted and reorganized, each bringing their own piece to the puzzle that is tackling a pandemic.
And Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara isn’t any different.
Despite having to downsize operations by 65%, the nonprofit is determined to remain active, functioning not only as a remote support system to families at home, but also as a resource to the whole community.
As of March 16, both of GIGSB’s Santa Barbara and Goleta Valley centers, located at 531 E. Ortega St. and 4973 Hollister Ave., have temporarily shut their doors, with all regular programming cancelled through June 15. Yet behind closed facilities, GIGSB is offering streamlined program content via Zoom and other online platforms.
In the meantime, the centers will be put to good use, donating their facilities to other organizations. As of now, those partnerships include assisting Showers of Blessing and the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, the first phase of what the nonprofit hopes to be a long stream of collaborations.
“We’re offering what we have,” said Barbara Ben-Horin, GIGSB CEO. “We have two centers, parking lots, facilities and commercial kitchens. We jumped in and spoke to, and continue to speak with, other groups in the community to see where we can be of help.”
Facing several site shutdowns of their own, Showers of Blessing will find a new temporary home with GIGSB, specifically in the Santa Barbara Center’s parking lot. There, the organization’s free mobile shower service for the community’s homeless will reside every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at least for the month of April, if not through June.
Likewise, GIGSB has loaned out six of its youth busses – all 15-passenger vans – to the Foodbank to aid in emergency food relief throughout the county. Using drivers from the National Guard and the California Conservation Corps, the additional vehicles will allow the Foodbank to expand its delivering capacity to those who are homebound.
Typically, the busses transport girls from kindergarten up through high school to GIGSB’s after school programs. Without in-person classes or usual programming, the vans were left unused – a perfect opportunity for collaboration.
Four of the vehicles are allocated for North County deliveries, leaving two for South County, as well as additional vans back at Girls Inc. in case the Foodbank’s demand increases.
“(GIGSB’s) generous support epitomizes the kind of partnership that is critical to the Foodbank being quickly able to meet the community’s increasing need for food during the COVID-19 crisis,” Foodbank CEO Erik Talkin said in a news release.
While this partnership helps generate widespread food accessibility, GIGSB’s motivation was in part tied to those it knows and cares for personally. Aware of how many in the Girls Inc. family are food insecure, the nonprofit knew simply offering up a few extra vans could help provide families with an alternate form of support.
Still, an increase in food insecurity points to a larger concern of the GIGSB staff. Often acting as a safe place for girls who may not be safe at home, GIGSB’s physical presence was integral to its operation. Now, more than ever, employees have had to trust their girl-to-staff relationships are strong enough to withstand the uncertainty.
“While the safety of (all) girls and youth at home has always been a concern for me (before this pandemic), it is especially heightened right now since we are ordered to shelter in place,” said Brenda Mendoza Alamo, GIGSB Teen Center Director. “This is why we are being intentional to continue to build a rapport with our teens, so they feel comfortable enough to share if anything is coming up for them.”
Apart from difficulty accessing basic resources, conditions that are a cause for concern include LGBTQ+ youth who may have not come out to their guardians yet or any dangerous living situations. With these realities in mind, Girls Inc. staff members have stepped up.
“Some of the things we are doing to address these issues is by having regularly scheduled check-ins as a whole group, and by grade, throughout the week,” said Ms. Alamo. “We will reach out to teens individually for a one-on-one if we suspect that someone needs to connect individually or in a smaller group setting.
“We are going to try to maintain the Girls Inc. environment during our virtual sessions and try to mirror our safe physical and emotional shared space at the centers as much as possible.”
In times of crisis, when normalcy is hard to come by, these connections give girls and employees alike someone to lean on – a fact that has cut deep as downsizing became the organization’s only option.
“It feels amazing to be able to lend our resources to the community, but for me personally, I’m not feeling that quite yet,” said Kristen Weaver, GIGSB Director of Communications. “I’m still grieving the loss of so many employees this week.”
As of April 1, GIGSB reduced its operations by 65%. This meant the loss of 56 employees, leaving only a fraction of their 83-person staff still employed. But with no income from program fees, cancelled fundraising events and little opportunity to rent out facilities, the nonprofit was left at a financial standstill.
“We aren’t open, so (families) aren’t paying, but as an organization we need to raise money,” said Ms. Ben-Horin. “We’ve had to figure out how to keep a skeletal staff and make a plan for April, May, and June. We need more funds. We’re about halfway there.”
GIGSB needs around $100k each month to run at the skeletal level, compared to its usual monthly budget of $260k. Still, even the moderated goal may be hard to satisfy. 50% of the organization’s annual operating revenue is generated by program fees, Ms. Ben-Horin explained. To make matters worse, GIGSB cancelled its annual fundraising luncheon on March 20, which was set to bring in upwards of $220k.
This left GIGSB to rely on only what it had left in the bank prior to the pandemic. Right now, the nonprofit is not yet funded through June’s skeletal budget. While Ms. Ben-Horin has focused on filling that gap with local donors and grant requests, becoming fully operational once again poses a much larger difference to make up.
“We’re going to need to get back up to $260k a month to operate as we did before,” said Ms. Ben-Horin. “When kids come back to school and people go back to work, there will be a line at the door for girls to come back.
We don’t expect families to help with the program fees, so the resources need to be open to take the kids and have that time with us after school while parents get back on their feet.”
For now, all GIGSB can do is remain a resource and hope the community echoes the support. And from what she’s seen, Ms. Ben-Horin has a good feeling about their chances.
“Talking to the community, to individuals and nonprofits, I’m hearing that we’ll make it back like we always do,” she said. “We’re doing the best we can – telling our story of how we’re working remotely, being a resource to the community and asking for help.”