United South End Settlements (USES) has reinvented, relocated and reallocated for more than 125 years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been just another example of the nimbleness of the organization to serve the community.
Now, USES has restructured itself on the fly and launched the neighbor2neighbor Fund to help support the community through online enrichment, coaching, grants and serving food.
“One thing I think is so remarkable is in our history over 125 years our ability to do great things through so much difficulty including the Great Depression, the Recession and other things,” said Director Maicharia Weir Lytle. “We’ve always made it to the other end of the challenges.”
It seems this time is no different for USES, as they have started a new Fund in partnership with the United Way that will help to serve the families throughout the community.
Weir Lytle said USES had to shut down its operations in March, with the last day of programs being on March 16. A week later came Gov. Charlie Baker’s shutdown of most non-essential businesses, which included USES. That didn’t mean they were going to sit on the sidelines of the current crisis.
Using online meeting technology, they began to meet to figure out how they would respond to support the families they serve. Immediately, they began re-training employees and now 13 members of the staff have trained as Family Support Advocates to provide coaching to parents.
Those workers were formerly in early childhood care, at reception and in the after-school programs. However, Weir Lytle said the greatest need clearly had been helping families in crisis.
“We found 35 percent of our families we’ve been working with have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced,” she said. “The new navigators we have now have been able to help families get in touch with services and benefits like Unemployment Insurance.”
That led to the neighbor2neighbor Fund, which USES is raising money for right now.
Already, they have been able to give out $500 grants to 25 families through the generosity of a private funding partner. They have also given out seven mini-grants from the actual Fund – which has an average of $250 to be given out.
That Fund is meant to also assist those families who are facing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 response. That could be rent, bills, utilities and other expenses that are now coming up.
“The biggest item of help that people need for support is helping to pay rent or bills,” said Weir Lytle. “There is the forgiveness now on many of those things, but folks don’t want to fall behind. They will have to repay it at some point. It’s important to make sure families aren’t burdened later, especially with so much job loss.”
A great deal of activity has also been happening at the USES building, where groups of staff and volunteers are helping to distribute bags of food to families in a partnership with the YMCA and City Fresh. They are preparing 50 boxes of food for families in need, and 150 pre-packaged meals for children. This happens one time a week and has proven critical.
“They are preparing the food and our staff and volunteers are working together to literally drop the food door-to-door. It’s no-contact delivery and it’s been incredible and we’re trying to continue it.”
Virtual learning has also been front and center for the families that are served by USES. Through online networks, they have been doing circle time with the kids. There is an online curriculum that runs every day and has many learning opportunities and craft programs.
“This is one way for young children to stay connected with the teachers and their peers during this time.”
USES is actively looking for donations from the community to continue their work. To donate, go to USES.org and click on the ‘donate’ button. Anyone with any questions can e-mail Weir Lytle at [email protected].