Vail Valley nonprofits adapting to serve in the COVID-19 era
During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person is out and distancing is in. That fact has forced a number of nonprofit groups to re-think how they provide services.
The Vail Veterans Program for years has brought groups of disabled veterans and their families to the valley for recreation and respite. That model was broken by the pandemic.
In the months since the pandemic struck, program organizers had to re-think their mission.
The pandemic “forced our organization to think outside the box,” Vail Veterans Program founder Cheryl Jensen said. “We had to think of ways to have a meaningful, positive impact on our vets at home.”
That was the inspiration for the group’s Our Mission Continues project. That effort includes providing emergency assistance for housing, utilities and food. Payments are made directly to utility companies, banks and other firms.
“It’s been really eye-opening to understand the stressors wounded warriors feel at home,” Jensen said.
The Vail Veterans Program also is providing virtual help for education, happy hours and other services. Resources include help with finance, mental and physical therapy and more.
The program’s staff has also joined in on some of the efforts, including a fitness challenge in which team members try to get in 15,000 steps per day or more.
The Vail Valley Foundation has also found itself shifting the way its programs work. The foundation does a lot, from sponsoring World Cup ski racing to hosting Vail’s Hot Summer Nights concert series. The foundation also has a wide-ranging youth services program, YouthPower365.
Foundation public relations director Tom Boyd said the youth services are critical.
“When the schools were closed, that didn’t mean we could just go home,” Boyd said. “We were more needed than ever before.”
A student struggling with math or reading in class may need even more help when learning remotely.
The foundation’s Magic Book Bus — which brings reading resources to kids in under-served neighborhoods and offers educational resources to kids about to enter kindergarten — couldn’t operate as usual this year.
Instead of picking up kids, socially distanced outdoor gatherings in parks were organized.
Other gatherings had to change, including YouthPower365’s popular youth soccer programs. To maintain social distancing, the teams were arranged like the players on a foosball table, and kids had to stay in their predetermined squares.
“Everyone had a blast,” Boyd said, adding that the human foosball games are one example of a number of activities that had to be adjusted.
Taking camp to kids
The programs at Roundup River Ranch are just about the definition of “hands-on.”
The ranch, part of Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall camps, provides free camp experiences to children with life-threatening illnesses. The nature of the camp made it virtually impossible to gather this year.
Instead, the camp went virtual in a big way.
In an email Roundup River Ranch marketing and communications manager Jennifer Clark described some of the ways the camp altered its mission this year.
The new Camp Online programs offer virtual camp experiences, camper newsletters and Camp in Your Community experiences.
The idea, Clark wrote, is to “meet our campers exactly where they are (whether at home or in a hospital room) physically and emotionally, by providing quality, safe online programming over weekends, in the evenings, during school breaks and beyond.” The goal, with both in-person and virtual experiences is to let kids and families know that “no matter what life throws their way, Roundup River Ranch is there to provide support.”
As the pandemic eases, some of the programs invented this year will remain. Jensen said she’s being asked quite a lot these days if the Vail Veterans Program’s new efforts will continue.
“Absolutely,” she said.
Boyd said that the Vail Valley Foundation also intends to keep many of what was new in 2020.
The foundation sponsored this season’s Magic of Lights Vail program at Ford Park. That program takes guests on a half-mile evening walk through displays that include about 500,000 individual lights. Reviews have been good enough that Boyd said he believes that program will continue into the future.
The foundation also sponsors the Vail Dance Festival. This year, that festival went virtual, and gained a lot of attention from national press outlets.
The Vail Dance Festival: The Digital Edition “ended up having a phenomenally successful global audience,” Boyd said.
Boyd said that the adjustments and changes, by the foundation and other nonprofits, represent “what happens when you never say die, never give up … you do what you can do.”
Want to help?
In addition to the nonprofit groups in this story, other local nonprofits can always use your help. Information about more than 50 well-qualified nonprofits can be found on the Eagle County Gives Day website.
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