Shining Star

Passion & Purpose

Community service collective adapts to pandemic, earns recognition

Family Crisis Shelter Director Anita Byers, foreground, meets with Board of Directors President Scott Sommer and Montgomery County United Fund Director Gina Haile at the shelter Monday. The trio has been working together to combat not only COVID-19 but obsolete technology during the pandemic. With assistance from Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, MCUF funded a much-needed upgrade in technology, allowing the shelter to effectively double its services for victims of domestic violence through the use of virtual, face-to-face interactions.
Family Crisis Shelter Director Anita Byers, foreground, meets with Board of Directors President Scott Sommer and Montgomery County United Fund Director Gina Haile at the shelter Monday. The trio has been working together to combat not only COVID-19 but obsolete technology during the pandemic. With assistance from Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, MCUF funded a much-needed upgrade in technology, allowing the shelter to effectively double its services for victims of domestic violence through the use of virtual, face-to-face interactions.
Nick Wilson/Journal Review
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A number of community organizations were included in a single nomination for the Journal Review’s annual Shining Star contest this year.

As a way of recognizing diligent service in 2020 and in the face of COVID-19, the honor is bestowed to all; each has made a positive impact while adapting to the many restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

Though the organizations vary in way of services, one common thread found throughout is the Montgomery County United Fund.

“They had the passion and the purpose to keep functioning ... when it might have been easier to give up,” nominator Denise Booher Walker said as she reflected on the past year in a letter nominating more than a dozen organizations.

“Youth still enjoyed recreation ... adults still worked to improve their lives and extend their education ... the bonds of addiction were still supported ... parents were still able to trust their children to several childcare programs ... struggling families could find comfort and support in transitional housing ... [and] many others continued to be assisted through the diverse offerings of all the members of the family that comprise MCUF.”

The United Fund’s Gina Haile, hired as director earlier this month, said the pandemic has forced severe alterations in day-to-day operations for all members. As the new director, Haile is making site visits this month. She said she is amazed at the hard work and adaptation despite a slew of setbacks.

“Every time I walk in, I’m completely astonished at what they do in general, but especially during covid,” Haile said Monday, “how they’ve adapted and adjusted and continued to meet the needs that they are created to do, are organized to do — but do it in this time. They are doing what’s necessary to accomplish their missions.”

One such organization is the Family Crisis Shelter on Whitlock Avenue. The service was doubly impacted by the pandemic, Haile said — first by COVID-19 and then by aging technology.

“Our computer systems were very, very antiquated,” Shelter Director Anita Byers said as she explained the difficulties of using virtual meet-and-greet apps like Zoom with obsolete tech. “There was no microphone. There was no camera.”

But the Family Crisis Shelter and MCUF were able to flip the issue on its head and turn the tide against COVID-19 in domestic abuse. A grant bestowed to the shelter in August, made possible by the Eli Lilly Endowment, allowed for the purchase of five all-in-one computers, as well as several fax machines, scanners and printers.

And now the number of victims served has nearly doubled each month. Prior to the pandemic, the shelter could house 31, but social distancing restrictions forced that number down to seven.

“It’s made my job much easier, but what it’s really done is enable us to reach out to the victims,” Byers said. “In March, we had seven outreach clients; in April, we had 51.”

Haile and the MCUF will continue to support these organizations throughout the next year, she said, and will look for more opportunities to find silver linings in 2021.

“We are still hopeful and optimistic that our giving will be at a level that supports their work,” Haile said. “My hope is that we’ll shift in creative ways just like our agencies have to figure out how to generate funds and support the good work that goes on here.”

Nominated organizations included: Boys & Girls Club, Camp Rotary, Youth Camps, Youth Service Bureau, CARA, Fuzzy Bear Preschool, New Beginnings, Willson Family Literacy, Community Chest, 4 Anchors Women’s Ministries, Pam’s Promise, Sunshine Vans, Trinity Life, Family Crisis Shelter, Recovery Coalition and Volunteers for Mental Health.

Those with questions or looking for assistance with their nonprofits may call MCUF at 765-362-5484.

Look for stories on additional recipients in upcoming editions of the Journal Review.

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