Local Dayton organizations adapt to COVID

Two local organizations in the Dayton area, The Life Enrichment Center and YWCA Dayton, express how they and the Dayton community have been affected by COVID.

“We’re not new to this, we’re true to this,” Audrey Starr, Director of Marketing and Communications at YWCA Dayton, stated about the pandemic. She explained that YWCA Dayton is “a 150-year-old social services organization serving women and families across the Miami Valley. And we do that in four core ways of living out our mission, which is eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.”

“We prayed, I’ll tell you that,” Shayna Thomas, Director of Development at the Life Enrichment Center (LEC), stated about LEC’s response to the pandemic. She explained that LEC is “a nonprofit organization based in East Dayton. We look at ourselves more of a ministry than a nonprofit. And what we want to see is people grow not only in their faith but also as a person. So we give them opportunities to give back to the Life Enrichment Center.” Shayna mentioned LEC is open to all faiths.

Immediate impacts on ongoing events

Both organizations had ongoing plans for events and programs prior to the COVID pandemic starting. These events were canceled or put on hold.

“One of the most immediate impacts for us was our largest event, our Women of Influence Awards Luncheon,” Starr said regarding YWCA Dayton. “It happens every year about the second Thursday of March. And it is not only our largest event and our largest fundraiser, but it is the largest luncheon in the Miami Valley. So we were expecting upwards of over 900 people once you include staff and volunteers.” The luncheon was postponed indefinitely after having being rescheduled to June initially, according to WHIO.

“It was slated to happen on March 12,” Starr explained, “and we had to cancel it less than 24 hours out because the pandemic went from zero to 60. I have a distinct memory of sitting at my desk after we had been working with our Women of Influence honorees, working with our major sponsors, and working with the convention center staff on what we should do. Do we keep moving forward? Everything was happening so fast. We had just decided to go ahead and reschedule it for later in the summer. And as I was working on those messages, I got the news notification that the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. We kind of felt the brunt of that immediately. It is our largest fundraiser; it brings in over $200,000 every year.”

“[Another] one of the biggest things that we had really been looking forward to in 2020 was celebrating our sesquicentennial,” Starr stated. “We’ve had a lot of plans for celebrating that with our community with some free community events, some activities within a block party, and all of that had to go on pause. So we’ll just have to look towards our 155th or whatever anniversary that might be called.”

“Prior to COVID, we had just launched our Pathways to Growth program,” began Thomas with the LEC. The program involved staff partners working more closely with clients on accomplishing goals. “With COVID, that program had to rethink a little bit, and we even stopped that program for a little bit and now it’s starting to pick up.” At the time of writing, LEC is seeking volunteer coaches for the Pathways to Growth program, according to the LEC website.

Impacts on operations

When COVID became a pandemic, both organizations had to re-evaluate their crisis and safety plans and how they operated.

“We had to come up with new ways to engage our clients,” Thomas said. “A lot of our clientele are homeless or do not have the amenities that you and I might have. So we had to really refocus and reshift some things. We can only have so many people in the GED class and so many people in our computer lab. So we have to keep that in mind.”

Thomas continued with policies LEC implemented for the building and for staff. “We require everybody to wear a mask when they enter the building. We have hand sanitizer at every door. We ask everyone to sign in so we know who’s in the building. And we ask everyone to be socially distant.” Posters and signs around the building display these policies.

Thomas explained one particularly challenging aspect of COVID was navigating technology requirements. “Sometimes [the clients] don’t have phones or they don’t have housing. So it was really hard to work with the hand that we were dealt with for the time being. Some of our computers didn’t have a camera on them, so we had to share cameras. We work with a lot of the senior centers and senior homes on the east side of Dayton. And some seniors aren’t tech-savvy.”

Thomas also mentioned they have had to stop regularly serving breakfast to the community. But there is a positive side despite that obstacle. 

“We weren’t able to serve our regular meals and serve breakfast,” Thomas stated. “However, we just had numbers shared recently with us that even though we were shut down to our clients, we were still able to serve over 5000 meals. That’s via serving meals at the senior center to serving meals at St Paul’s church in East Dayton. And we have partner agencies that come every Tuesday to get food off of a food truck that comes in.”

YWCA Dayton also faced challenges amid COVID, some of them unique to the organization.

“We were having to turn to all of our frontline services,” Starr stated. “We operate 24/7 in multiple locations in two counties. So that immediate pulling out our emergency response plans and saying what is it that we need to put into place to keep clients, residents, and staff safe, and therefore to keep our community safe.” Starr explained despite COVID, some people still need emergency services and shelter because they’re fleeing violence. 

Starr continued by stating they focused on “how do we keep providing these services and do it in a safe, healthy way to keep everybody well, and trying to pivot from normally working in trauma to working in the special kind of pandemic trauma?” She mentioned she was incredibly proud of their team.

Starr mentioned the YWCA Dayton is 150 years old and has been through wars and other challenges including the Spanish flu pandemic. However, no one alive today was alive during the Spanish flu pandemic. Therefore, although others can read accounts of the pandemic, no one experienced it firsthand.

COVID and trauma

Starr explained in-depth how COVID ties in with trauma others may already be facing especially at the YWCA Dayton.

“For us being a nonprofit that works in trauma, when you look at a pandemic, that is trauma in and of itself,” explained Starr. “It is causing a lot of trauma, whether that’s upfront trauma from people who are actually suffering and recovering from the virus itself or they know a loved one who is, all the way down to people who have lost employment. [It’s also] people who are isolated with their abuser and the abuse is escalating. It’s people who are still working but they are now juggling a full-time job at home while juggling full-time children’s virtual learning through school. And so just the residual trauma that can cause for our community, it’s just staggering. 

“And that’s not exempt from our staff; our staff are people too.” Starr explained the staff face very similar forms of trauma from the pandemic as clients and residents do. “And so you have all of those factors layered upon each other. We’re really trying to stay vigilant, especially those of us in leadership positions. It really is going to take all of us to get through this.

“The tagline from the state of Ohio is In this together, Ohio. And we really leaned on that too because we think it’s really true. We work in trauma every day normally. When you put [the pandemic] on top of it, It’s a lot, and especially for the Dayton area too. It’s been a really tough couple of years from the tornadoes and the KKK rally downtown to the Oregon district shooting. We were coming off of a year of much trauma. And this adds that fuel to the fire. So we are making sure that we are keeping ourselves as healthy and safe, mentally, physically, emotionally as we can so that we can be there for the community and still provide those services in the way that they need it.”

Words for the community

Both Starr and Thomas shared some words of empowerment for the Dayton community amid the pandemic.

“Give yourself grace,” Starr advised. “There’s not a playbook for COVID. Things are going to have to change. You’re going to have to be flexible. And if what is working today is working today, then do that today. If you wake up tomorrow and you realize that it needs to look or be different, that’s okay; that’s not a failing. That just means that you recognize or learn something new.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Thomas advised. “Don’t be afraid to collaborate with other people. People are there for support. God has provided so much, even through times of difficulty and trouble. Rely on God. Don’t give up, keep persevering. We are a strong community. And we can see that people continue to fight and persevere. And I think that’s the motto for everyone in 2020.”

The Life Enrichment Center’s website can be reached at daytonlec.org.The YWCA Dayton website can be reached at ywcadayton.org


Featured photo: YWCA Dayton has received more than 1,000 face mask donations to help keep staff, clients, residents, and visitors safe. This photo was taken on April 8, 2020, outside the YWCA Dayton facility on Third Street.

Choice Pantry, taken at the Life Enrichment Center on February 14, 2019.

2 thoughts on “Local Dayton organizations adapt to COVID”

  1. Great article, Patrick! Thanks so much for highlighting YWCA Dayton and shining a light on both how tough this year has been, but also the reasons we’re thankful and hopeful.

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