When faced with the challenge of transitioning services to virtual platforms, First Step Family Support Center had to creatively problem solve. First Step was one of 17 recipients of OCH’s COVID-19 Response Funds, receiving $20,000 to expand virtual services as well as outreach to vulnerable populations and those living in the West End of Clallam County.
Over the past six months, every program at First Step had to think creatively about how to continue services, including their home visiting programs, Parents as Teachers, Parent Child Assistance Program and Maternity Support Services, the perinatal support groups, parenting classes, drop-in center, car seat education, and safe sleep education. First Step’s Program Manager, Elisia Fernandez shared, “We are not stopping any services because people need these resources. But we have to keep everyone safe […] The most creative ideas that we have come up with have been from team members who want to serve their clients.”
In addition to adjusting services, COVID-19 posed a major challenge to initial client contact. First Step noticed referral systems slowing down with the increase in virtual services. Similarly, there was a decrease in well-child checks and many people weren't accessing standard services. Instead of being overwhelmed by these challenges, First Step turned them into opportunities to build relationship with the community.
First Step made an intentional effort to reach out to clients and community members, providing them with an update on what resources are still available. They significantly ramped up their outreach efforts to meet people where they are at by utilizing social media, Messenger, text, and other platforms. “We follow every single lead. Our outreach worker contacted every single person that had been served by First Step to see how they were doing and what resources they might need. The OCH funds have helped make it possible for us to pay someone hourly to do that” says Fernandez. That contact is so important because once someone accesses one resource, First Step can then refer them to a wide variety of other resources.
Fernandez shared her experience working with a single mom who recently went on unemployment and needed clothes for her children. The woman had not used First Step’s services before, so they helped provide her with kid clothes from their clothing closet. During that initial conversation with her, First Step’s outreach team realized she was also worried about groceries and they were able to connect her with grocery cards. “She gave me the most beautiful note about how she didn’t even know how much she needed us in that moment,” shared Fernandez. By taking the time to “reach out”, whether it is setting up a resource table outside a grocery store or sending someone a message on Facebook, First Step is able to remind community members that they are not alone.
The personal outreach efforts are making meaningful impacts on both the lives of community members and the First Step team members. "Our team is experiencing this pandemic in a similar way that clients are, watching our team members feel useful, needed, and important during this time has been uplifting,” says Fernandez. Workforce resilience is a critical piece to staying strong during these difficult times. By remaining open to new ideas, First Step was able to face these challenges in a way that allowed them to reach out to their neighbors and continue offering services in a way that keeps everyone safe.
Keep up the great work, First Step Family Support Center!
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