The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted plans, processes and procedures at Methodist Children’s Home in 2020. While not the path on which any organization would have chosen to learn and grow, MCH has a long history of adapting in crisis and finding ways to continue meeting the needs of others.
There have been numerous defining events in the 130-year history of MCH that stretched and strained this ministry. While 2020 has offered a unique set of challenges, MCH approached COVID-19 as another opportunity to make innovative changes and develop strategies that enable services to continue and contribute to the legacy of providing care in crisis.
“The unprecedented events brought on by the pandemic certainly had the potential to derail our services to children youth and families,” said Trey Oakley, president of MCH. “However, the opposite proved true for us. It is said that one’s true character is revealed in times of crisis; I believe the same can be said for ministries and organizations. While challenging, the crisis actually emboldened us and gave us momentum to find and create innovative ways to continue serving hurting and struggling families and communities.”
Backed by the support of the ministry’s Board of Directors, all programs and services at MCH received assessment and evaluation to ensure best processes and delivery systems were in place.
“It is no accident that when the coronavirus began to affect our country, we were deep into an organizational strategic planning process,” Oakley said. “With the pandemic as a backdrop, we took a deep dive to understand how our plans should be implemented in light of the current needs.”
The MCH strategic plan articulates four strategic commitments cumulatively called ONE MCH. [For more information about ONE MCH and the MCH strategic plan, visit MCH.org and read the summer 2020 issue of Sunshine magazine.] According to Oakley, the commitment titled “Focused and Flexible Ministries” specifically challenges MCH to answer the call in this time of crisis. The commitment reads:
“We commit to achieving our strategic plan, guided by best practices, to ensure we remain focused on our vision and mission. While we are committed to planned change, we are blessed with expertise and resources that enable us to respond quickly to unanticipated challenges and new opportunities in communities throughout Texas and New Mexico.”
Oakley noted that during the months impacted by COVID-19, MCH has been marked by innovation and creativity in fulfilling the ministry’s mission to equip children, youth and families to flourish by offering hope through Christ-centered relationships, services and support.
“Every program and department across the scope of MCH was called upon to use resources and staff ingenuity to find ways to innovatively serve children and families – including those who work for MCH – while taking into account safety measures and guidelines required by health services,” Oakley said.
The following examples provide a picture of the innovative ways MCH programs have risen to the challenge during the pandemic:
SAFETY AND MEDICAL
At the onset of COVID-19, MCH implemented a screening protocol for youth on the Waco campus and MCH Boys Ranch, including a drive-by nurse screening for youth returning from spring break and Easter home visits.
To provide breaking news and other health and safety information, a COVID-19 resource page was quickly constructed and housed on the MCH intranet, called “MCH Connect.” From this platform, employees can access messages from Oakley related to actions being taken, procedures and organizational changes impacting staff. This proved to be particularly helpful for direct-care staff serving youth on MCH campuses.
“The COVID-19 resource page was a game-changer for us working in the homes with the youth,” said Monica Rose, case manager at the Tom Mitchell Home. “Not only could we access the information from our computers, but also our cell phones. Having resources about safety issues, health tips and even weekly Bible verses so readily available gave us the ability to quickly provide vital information and encouragement to our staff, parents, community partners, and youth.”
In all MCH facilities and activities, screening measures, including temperature checks for all residents, visitors and activity participants, continue to be enforced to maintain the health and safety of MCH youth and staff.
SERVICE TO FAMILIES
As shelter-at-home protocols were ordered in many areas, staff in MCH Family Outreach offices across Texas and New Mexico served families as they would in the event of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane.
“When a natural disaster happens, once our teams are safe we immediately reach out to and assess the needs of those families in our care,” said Traci Wagner, vice president for programs. “Knowing many families were in desperate situations, our outreach offices approached COVID-19 in the same way. Those early days were spent reaching out to families, finding out the pressing needs and working to meet those needs.”
The quick response and continuing needs have led to an escalation of services from the 13 outreach offices. Offices increased the availability of classes and hosted resources and community fairs online in English and Spanish. Teams focused on reducing barriers of childcare, transportation, or fears of attending a class in person, which has led to an increased utilization of parent education and Circle of Security resources by schools, churches and community groups.
MCH case managers also increased their in-person visits to client families to provide much-needed socially distanced face-to-face time for families sheltering at home. Wagner said case managers traveled with lawn chairs and boxes of essential supplies for visits in yards, front porches and parks.
In Las Cruces, a client diagnosed with IDD (Intellectual Development Disorder) was required to complete a state-mandated parent education course in person. Due to struggles and fear about the pandemic, the mother felt defeated. Through creative planning, the Las Cruces Outreach team hosted Parent Education classes in a local park with limited participants to follow COVID-safe practices, which enabled this mother to fulfill her needs.
“We felt drawn to become creative in assisting this mom and supporting her autonomy in her unique situation as she expressed her need to experience felt safety,” said Tiffany Gonzales, director of MCH Family Outreach in Las Cruces. “The drive to support her came from our mission and vision to empower all we serve to experience life to the fullest.”
TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
With travel restrictions and shelter-at-home orders in place, MCH turned to technology to stay connected. Meetings of the MCH Board of Directors are held virtually, as was the annual meeting of the MCH Commissioners in October. In addition, Oakley moved leadership team meetings to online platforms to maintain safety protocols.
In the Development department, members of the MCH fundraising team, accustomed to traveling across Texas and New Mexico meeting with donors and speaking in churches, developed electronic messages and visited with benefactors online instead of face to face. As churches and community groups continue to delay in-person meetings, development officers share the MCH story with groups and classes through virtual church visits and messages.
Utilizing the organization’s intranet and Microsoft Teams platforms enable various MCH departments and service areas to remain connected and collaborative.
“The rise in virtual meetings led to an increase in collaboration between staff all over Texas and New Mexico,” Oakley said. “A true culture of learning has been fostered at MCH that will only grow in the months and years ahead.”
MCH employees shared ideas and innovations through virtual meetings of several new work groups launched during the pandemic, including the Five-Star Service committee formed to reward staff going above and beyond during the crisis, a social justice work group, an on-call work group, social media and cell phone use work group, and the SOS program planning group.
Each MCH youth received a laptop to use for online schooling and for virtual meetings and tutoring sessions with their teachers at the charter school.
Teachers and staff at the MCH charter school developed an innovative plan to keep students and staff safe while maintaining a comprehensive learning environment.
On the Waco campus, the Spiritual Development team developed interactive church services for youth and staff to be viewed online, and drew from staff all across the ministry to be involved through sharing video testimonies to encourage the youth.
With the decision to launch fall sports with a strict plan to protect the health and safety of athletes and coaches (see p. 12), MCH began livestreaming football and volleyball games to increase support and viewership of games at a time when in-person spectators are limited due to
THE STAFF ON STANDBY (SOS) PROGRAM
The SOS program is designed for employees who do not serve in direct childcare roles to lend their support by assisting with short-term projects and other childcare needs. The goal is to alleviate some of the additional burdens placed on childcare staff during COVID-19 and also provide employee engagement opportunities that support the mission.
The SOS program was nominated for the 2020 Council on Accreditation (COA) Innovative Practices Award for the ministry’s creative response to COVID-19 and commitment to providing innovative solutions in crisis.
To date, the SOS program has provided 204 service hours to support frontline staff operations. Projects have included special employee appreciation efforts, meal deliveries and a series of service opportunities at organized youth events. These efforts have helped MCH to continue providing care at full census while navigating the many restrictions due to COVID-19.
The program has also strengthened organizational culture at MCH by fostering a community of mission-focused employees rooted in unified purpose and agency-wide teamwork – a key goal in the ministry’s strategic plan. The SOS program has approached each request for support with a mission mindset.
Below are three examples of how the SOS program has provided an innovative solution during the pandemic that has contributed to positive service delivery and organizational success.
First Day of School: In an effort to help make the first day of school successful, members of the SOS program developed a plan to prepare and deliver goodie bags of school supplies to students attending the MCH charter school. Members worked together to fill dozens of bags with notebooks, pens, snacks, travel-sized bottles of hand sanitizer, and cards with handwritten inspirational messages and words of encouragement.
Playdates: The SOS program was asked to provide “playdates” for residents who are considerably younger than the average youth in care at MCH. With summer camps and other recreational activities being cancelled due to COVID-19, playdates were scheduled three times a week for each child and included interactive activities such as board games, arts and crafts, outside play, and baking snacks. The playdates offered the children individualized time and attention and also provided short-term respite for childcare staff juggling additional responsibilities.
Special Events: Students were unable to attend their annual “MCH Prom Night” in the spring due to social-distancing protocols. The SOS program helped create special events for the students unable to participate in this tradition by providing decorations, food, planning and attending basketball lock-ins, “fancy” dinners, video game parties, and spa nights.
“The SOS program is one example of the many ways MCH remains committed to finding solutions to challenges, coming together to support one another and prioritizing the well-being of others,” Trey Oakley said. “The response by MCH to COVID-19 will be a symbol of hope in the ministry’s long history of providing lifesaving care in crisis through its dedicated employees and by the grace of God.
“I am proud of the many ways MCH has demonstrated resiliency while managing the uncertainties of COVID-19,” Oakley said. “I am also honored to serve with so many employees who do not just talk about our mission, they live it day in and day out as we creatively equip children, youth and families to flourish.”