By Jen DeGregorio

While many small businesses throughout Michigan and beyond have been forced to close their physical doors due to COVID-19, nonprofits are still working hard to carry out their missions. I had the opportunity to speak with four Michigan charities to learn about the hurdles they are navigating during this strange time.

One of the common challenges many charities are facing right now is how to balance being helpful to the COVID-19 cause with enduring the crisis themselves. Many local nonprofits have been forced to cancel fundraising events, which are crucial to their stream of revenue. Uncertainty over the future of the economy makes it difficult to navigate and nurture relationships with donors and plan for the rest of the year.

CONTINUING THE MISSION

The ChadTough Foundation cancelled their 2020 Champions for Change Gala, which was to be held in May. Funds generated from the gala account for 40% of their revenue, which goes to fund pediatric brain cancer research, with an emphasis on DIPG — the disease responsible for almost half of all pediatric brain cancer deaths. Still, the foundation made the decision to hold off on any fundraising efforts for now.

“We are concerned about the health and economic well-being of our supporters, especially the small businesses who have supported our mission,” said executive director Ann Friedholm. “While we understand many are just not in a position to help right now, we know that the need for a cure for DIPG has not changed. If anything, it has become more desperate as clinical trials and research labs have been shut down in response to the pandemic. Our ability to continue fundraising will significantly impact how much new research we can support in the coming years.”

As part of Brain Cancer Awareness Month, instead of hosting the gala, The ChadTough Foundation hosted ChadTough Live: Tougher Together, a virtual event to continue to raise awareness for pediatric brain cancer. The live-streamed event, which can be accessed from their website ChadTough.org, was hosted by CBS Sports analyst Jay Feely and included guests such as former Michigan Football Coach LLoyd Carr; ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale; columnist, author, and radio host Mitch Album; former Detroit Tiger Brandon Inge; New England Patriot Chase Winovich; and more.

“As we wait for an end to this pandemic, we still have DIPG kids currently fighting who are desperate for a cure, while other children are just being diagnosed,” said Tammi Carr, the mother of Chad Carr for whom the foundation is named. “The world can’t completely stop for them. We must keep the research going. Our commitment to Chad and the rest of the DIPG angels keeps us focused on finding that cure. Brain cancer is killing more kids than any other type of cancer, and it has to be stopped. We had to hope that for two hours on May 17th, these kids and their families could get our collective attention to help raise money toward the cure they all need.”

To learn more about the ChadTough Foundation or make a donation, visit www.ChadTough.org.

Ele’s Place is a nonprofit dedicated to helping children and teens work through grief by offering weekly in-person programs. When forced to close their Home for Healing Hearts due to COVID-19, the program staff worked quickly and creatively to develop virtual support in order to continue to serve grieving children.

“The children in our program are not only grieving the loss of a loved one, but also the loss of normalcy, routine, and everyday life,” said Bree Arvai, Director of Development at Ele’s Place. “It is crucial that our children, teens, and families have the opportunity to utilize grief activities at home to continue developing their coping skills as they move through their grief journey.”

As Ele’s Place is forced to cancel and postpone some of their planned fundraisers, the loss of revenue becomes worrisome. “We rely heavily on the generosity of our donors and community for the necessary financial support to operate our grief support programming, which is free to all who participate,” said Arvai. “Our families need the support of our community now to ensure that Ele’s Place will be here for our families and communities today, tomorrow, and always.”

To learn more about Ele’s Place or make a donation, visit  ElesPlace.org/get-involved/donate.

NAVIGATING THROUGH UNCERTAINTY

The YMCA Storer Camps, located just outside of Jackson, MI, sits on 1,300 acres surrounding Stony Lake. The camp serves about 17,500 children each year through their summer overnight camp, outdoor educational programs, and group programs.

Founded in 1918, the same year the Spanish Flu pandemic spread worldwide, the camp finds itself once again facing similar historical challenges. The camp had to suspend current programming that included 62 school groups attending their Outdoor Education Program. “It’s sad,” said Becky Spencer, VP of Camping. “For many kids, this would have been their first experience away from home. It gives them the chance to grow in independence, bond with their classmates, and experience learning in a new way.”

Because Storer Camps is part of the larger YMCA program, multiple camps have been leaning on each other to develop ways to stay engaged with their campers. “We have weekly video chats with our teen campers and even held a campfire on Instagram last week,” said Spencer.  

“At a national level, the YMCA and the American Camping Association are working with the Center for Disease Control to develop guidelines for summer camps to open with children’s safety in mind,” Spencer continued. “We are anxiously awaiting the updated CDC standards and looking forward to learning how the state of Michigan will use them in their guidance for opening.”

The uncertainty of whether or not summer camps will be allowed to reopen has created the biggest challenge for the camp, however they remain hopeful that with reduced group sizes and social distancing procedures in place, they will have the opportunity to carry out their summer programs. 

“We know that children need summer camp more than ever this year because of the social isolation and lost time with friends they have endured,” said Spencer.

Like other nonprofits, the loss of program revenue is hitting the YMCA Storer Camps hard. The camp has more than 80 animals to care for, including 50 horses, chickens, donkeys, pigs, and goats, which are all part of their camping experience. The camp is relying on donations to support the health, care, and nutrition of the animals.

To learn more about YMCA Storer Camps or make a donation, visit www.YMCAStorerCamps.org.

A NEIGHBORHOOD UNITES

Rainey Lamey lives in the Wildwood neighborhood in the west side of Ann Arbor. After noticing the food pantry line outside of the Salvation Army of Washtenaw County and making a few calls, she learned that one of the biggest things she could do for her community was to help bolster local food pantries. Rainey reached out to her neighbors, and together they were able to convince 40 households to donate food items.

“It was really nice to learn that our local food pantries coordinate and share donations,” said neighbor Christeen Holdwick. “We are in a unique position to live by the Salvation Army and have a unique group of neighbors who want to help.” Food donations made to the Salvation Army are distributed not only to their own food pantry, but also to Food Gatherers and local shelters.

The Salvation Army also received food donations from companies like Aramark, Whole Foods, and Cracker Barrel that resulted in a donation of 236 pounds of non-perishables to Food Gatherers and 60 monthly food bags for distribution.

“People in the community have been so supportive and continue to supply us with food and other resources, which enables us to serve anyone who comes to us in need of help,” said Major Kris Wood. “Our biggest challenge right now is that we cannot use volunteers as much as we normally can, so our expenses have increased dramatically. Our greatest need is monetary donations.”

To learn more about the Salvation Army of Washtenaw County or make a donation, visit WashtenawSA.org.

FORGING FORWARD UNDER CRISIS

Nonprofits across the country are optimistic about an influx of funding as the year progresses due to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was signed into law on March 27th. The bill provides increased charitable giving incentives for individuals and corporations. For taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions, this allows an above-the-line deduction for cash charitable contributions of up to $300 for an individual ($600 for married couple). For those who do itemize, the CARES Act allows itemizers to deduct contributions up to 100% of their adjusted gross income (AGI). Thus, for example, if your AGI is $100,000, you may deduct $100,000 in charitable contributions and wipe out your income tax liability entirely.

Under the cloud of uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, one thing remains clear: there are people in our community who are still hungry, families who are still grieving, and children who are still fighting for their lives. While the rest of the world has been put on pause, people in crisis still need help. Funding will inevitably falter, but the need will not.

Jen DeGregorio

BIO:

In addition to serving The ChadTough Foundation as the Director of Communications, Jen DeGregorio manages PR/marketing and events for several non-profits across Washtenaw County. She began her career in newspapers in 1995 as a means to cover college expenses.  After completing her degree at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in English, she continued to build a career in advertising with the Ann Arbor News.

She was one of the first hires at AnnArbor.com and became an integral part of the management team.  In 2012, Jen decided to start her own businesses, with a focus on helping small businesses and non-profits.  

She splits her time between her home in Dexter, Mi and an apartment in NYC where her husband has worked for almost a decade.

  • Lewis Jewelers