A significant component of the Mission of Centers for Independent Living is to empower people with disabilities to live independently in the community. The Covid outbreak was a chance to get real-world feedback on how we did with that preparation. What follows is a brief chronology of how the agency prepared for and adapted to, the Covid 19 Pandemic and its impact on our staff and consumers.
Like most organizations we stopped face to face visits effective March 9, 2020. We worked remotely for a week and then closed for a few days to allow Managers to develop work plans suitable in a new work from home environment, and to allow staff to make alternative childcare arrangements as local schools and daycares started closing their doors.
The initial recommendation from Washington was for CILs to be aggressive in their outreach, which we were already doing. During the first 4 months of the Pandemic, staff made over 2,000 wellness checks to current and former consumers and reported that the overwhelming majority of them were doing fine and had no immediate needs.
Disaster preparedness is a portion of our Independent Living skills curriculum and having some advance notice, along with a “dry run” two years earlier, allowed for both staff and consumers to have a smooth transition to a remote business model.
We staggered our staffing schedule so that no more than 4 people were in the building at any time and had the offices sanitized after hours daily. (We did this for about a year until the science suggested that solid services were not at high risk for transmission). They agency quickly acquired masks and sanitizer and started giving them to staff and consumers. At its height the agency had 35,000 masks either from donations or grant responses.
RIL was invited to be a participant agency in the City of Richmond Human Services Cabinet. This group consisted of non-profit and government leaders along with Police, Fire and Health Department representatives. They started meeting during the pandemic to discuss the best ways to address community need and to make sure that all groups had access to available supports.
In May 2020 we received CARES money from the Federal Government which allowed us to support individuals and families who had been impacted by Covid, is a significant way. By mid-summer, the agency had partnered with multiple other organizations, and staff were working 6 and 7 days / week with our newly created outreach program. A unique email address was shared across the city as a central point of contact. This was a complete change in our business model and we continued this pace until spring of 2021. That’s when demand started to recede and by the end of July 2021, our formal outreach program stopped.
Families who requested assistance through this program were offered the following:
- A bag of groceries thru our partnership with Bridging RVA
- A packet of documents containing information from numerus nonprofits and government agencies offering Covid related or housing supports in the region
- An opportunity to participate in a NIH sponsored research study through VCU School of Nursing which offered a $50 gift card upon completion
- A bag of PPE, including masks, sanitizer, wipes, gloves and Covid related information on transmission and safety precautions.
- A $500 credit on their electric bill thru our partnership with Dominion Energy.
You can see the completed research report from our Partnership with VCU School of Nursing HERE and you can see the Outreach Program Summary Report along with a complete list of our community partners HERE.
As part of our push to get people with disabilities vaccinated, the agency obtained several PSAs and ran them on Channel 6 along with their digital and over the air platforms. Copies of the two 30 second PSA’s can be seen below.
We partnered with Soar 365 and the Richmond/Henrico Health department to offer the area’s first drive thru vaccination event that specifically targeted individuals with disabilities and their caretakers. You can see the Channel 12 story of the event HERE.
We also helped start and promote the areas first adaptive ice hockey program for individuals with disabilities. The program has a volunteer to participant ratio of one to one. There is a small fee to join but there is no charge for equipment or ice time. You can see the piece that Channel 6 did on the Retrievers HERE.
You can find out more information on the Retrievers by going to their website, richmondretrievers.com.
In 2021 the agency designed and created a 60 second promotional video highlighting the organization and the work it had done over the past 18 months. That video, which aired locally for several months can be seen below.
Since March 2020 all our programing has been entirely virtual. Staff set up our consumers with Zoom accounts and if needed, laptops. Because individuals with disabilities are more vulnerable to medical complications than their non-disabled peers, the agency was slow to throw open its doors to bring them back inside. Staff worked through the obstacles inherent in remote learning and in the spring of 2022 started meeting our consumers outdoors, which was a welcome change.
The partnerships built during this time have led to fruitful ongoing relationships. These relationships are ongoing with almost all of our partners and several have recognized RIL for our positive collaborations. In February 2022, RIL was recognized by The Community Builders for its work in supporting the region during the height of the Covid Pandemic. A reception was held at the Hippodrome Theater. Community Builders was a property management company that housed a significant number of families that participated in our outreach program. They noticed our involvement and wanted to thank us for our efforts.
Through it all, program demand remained strong. Applications for home modifications through our partnership with Virginia Housing are at an all-time high. Our Learning to Drive program continued to be in demand and our community education programs have continued remotely. School referrals remain consistent and our Leadership Development programs with the support of the Partnership for People with Disabilities remains vibrant. On top of that, fundraising in the past two years has far exceeded expectations.
The agency is poised to emerge stronger and more relevant than ever. We continue adapting to the environment and maintaining a consumer directed focus as we continue supporting independent living for people with disabilities.
If you have questions about any of this or accessing community resources, shoot us an email. We may not be the right organization for you but with our years of experience working with multiple agencies across Central Virginia, we can probably point you in the right direction.