Just two days before Polished Pebbles girls mentoring program was scheduled to host 175 attendees at a mother-daughter career conference in early March, executive director Kelly Fair and her team made the decision to take the event virtual in light of the rising COVID-19 threat. The modified conference got more than 2,000 Facebook views.
“I think in our community of youth program providers we were the first ones to jump from the side of the pool into the deep end and say, well, what does this look like if we have to change things around virtually?” Fair said.
The nonprofit has been able to further bolster its quick transition to digital platforms and otherwise sustain itself in the weeks since with help from a bridge grant from the University of Chicago. The grant will help Polished Pebbles continue supporting its 15 full- and part-time staffers financially, help cover costs associated with online support services for the more than 600 K through 12th grade girls they work with each year, and focus on scaling up virtual offerings and other creative programming safely, Fair says.
After getting feedback from educators and parents, for instance, the organization recently hosted a virtual town hall meeting about the unique challenges moms are facing during the pandemic. “Support that UChicago and others have been providing allows us to continue to work but then take it to the next level which is critically important in the midst of this crisis,” Fair said.
The grant was one of 79 the University awarded to South Side nonprofit organizations impacted by the pandemic. The support was one element of the University’s South Side COVID-19 Community Support Initiative launched on March 30.
Organizations like Polished Pebbles that are based in or serve the University’s nine neighborhood focus area (Douglas, Grand Boulevard , Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn) and are affiliated with UChicago's Community Programs Accelerator were eligible to receive up to $7,500 in grants to cover general operating costs or expenses associated with moving programming online. Awarded funds totaled $400,000.
Fair says seeing community partners like the University, schools, elected officials, and fellow service organizations join forces to get through this unprecedented time has been inspiring.
“It allows us to not have to stress so much about keeping doors open and survival. Crises are a time when we’re forced to come up with solutions — it allows us to create, it allows us to innovate, and it creates an environment where we can ask partners can you help in this way?” Fair said. “And people are trusting and coming together and our entire team is extremely grateful for that.”