Kate Ayers and the team at ReEstablish Richmond have suddenly found themselves on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 2010, ReEstablish Richmond has helped to bridge a gap in services for refugees and help them navigate the many government programs available to secure housing, jobs, and basic human needs — and, ultimately, permanent residency and citizenship. Nationwide, refugees and immigrants are among the most deeply impacted by stay-at-home orders and economic lockdowns.
Earlier this year, the organization had come off a strategic planning process that outlined ways to strengthen their internal capacity as well as continue the nonprofit’s purpose of helping refugees meet long-term goals — things like helping people get driver’s licenses, become financially literate, and build a career in America.
That plan has, for the moment, gone out the window.
“When this all happened, we switched gears, pivoted, and focused on the immediate needs of clients,” says Ayers, the organization’s executive director. “It required a shift in thought processes, as we normally really take the time to get to know the communities we serve. We move more quickly now, and have adapted to the new way of doing things.”
The organization was uniquely equipped to confront the pandemic — despite having an administrative office, their staff is largely out in the field and works remote anyway, inside the communities it serves. They immediately connected to liaisons from various local communities — refugees and asylum seekers living in RVA who have fled here from across the world — to understand the needs of more than 250 families in the area. These days, ReEstablish Richmond serves as an English-speaking, multi-lingual advocate for refugees to help them navigate unemployment, jobs, funds, and access to food. They’ve even set up a fund to help pay for rent, too.
Part of that effort is making online resources available in multiple languages. While many nonprofits and companies have created dedicated COVID-19 resources pages, ReEstablish Richmond’s version comes in 10 different languages, including Dari, Nepali, and Kinyarwanda.
As a nonprofit, ReEstablish Richmond relies on donations and partnerships, and has enough on the books to maintain payroll for the next few months. Therefore, Ayers didn’t think to apply for PPP funding. Then a fundraising webinar and ReEstablish Richmond Board member recommended the nonprofit apply — as most small businesses and nonprofits were encouraged to do. “I was pointed to Virginia Community Capital, so I went on the website, read all about it, and the process was easy to understand,” Ayers says. The process was “well worth the time.” ReEstablish Richmond’s PPP funding will help keep 3.5 full-time equivalent employees on board without having to rely on giving levels, which has impacted many nonprofits in terms of contributions and volunteerism.
With funding in hand, Ayers and team can focus on the mission: Making sure that the Richmond region’s refugee and immigrant communities gain equitable access to resources and information. “Our focus now is about helping them meet basic human needs,” Ayers says.