Article by Vanessa Salvia
At the beginning of this pandemic, we all saw photos of the streets of downtown Eugene, devoid of cars and people. What had become a bustling city center we all were proud of had changed, seemingly overnight. Would Eugene welcome people and businesses again? If so, what would that new economic landscape look like?
Every person, business, and organization has had to adapt. Some, like the Barn Light, could not find a way to reopen. Some, like St. Vincent De Paul, closed some locations. Venues, such as The Shedd, moved some events online, but canceled others. Essential medical providers like Women’s Care had to make tough decisions about how to safely see patients. Gyms and activity centers like Bounce had to find a way to safely invite children back. While the road has been difficult, each of these businesses has found a way to triumph from challenge.
St. Vincent De Paul
St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County is different from other nonprofits in that they do not rely on the unstable nature of grants for funding. Sixty percent of their revenue comes from their retail centers, which were shuttered during the crisis. “Within one week we had to close all of our stores and at the same time were asked by the county to open an emergency respite shelter for unhoused people,” says Bethany Cartledge, SVdP’s Economic Development Director. “The first one we opened within 48 hours and the next one in 72 hours.”
The company moved quickly to mobilize its resources. Prior to COVID-19, they operated an emergency night shelter for unhoused single adults known as Dusk to Dawn, which could serve 256 individuals a night. “We modified the facility to allow for social distancing,” says Cartledge. “It is now open 24/7 and serves 140 people.”
Changes at First Place Family Shelter, which serves unhoused families, included reducing open hours and requiring appointments to use the laundry facilities. They also set up tutoring and other educational services. Overall, the organization saw an increase in services to unhoused individuals and an increase in use of the food pantry.
SVdP is the largest human services provider in our area. While they typically enjoy positive community relations, Cartledge says for the first time people were critical on social media. “We understood that tensions were high,” she says. “We shifted gears really quickly and we made it through. We are so thankful to be in this community and are so grateful for the community’s support.
The John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts
THE JOHN G. SHEDD INSTITUTE FOR THE ARTS When 2020 events came to a screeching halt, The Shedd, co-founded by Jim and Ginevra Ralph, was three-quarters through their season. They produced 95 performances, had nearly 60 rentals and other events, and had more than 400 students through the doors each week for music school. Lessons were shifted online, but events and performances were canceled. They lost their major income streams, and fundraising and construction was halted on their major remodeling project that was nearly complete.
“The regulations for venues are intense,” says Jim. “And they aren’t ‘guidelines’ in the sense that they are optional; they are required or you can be shut down.” The Shedd would have had to separate their parking lot if there was more than one event such as music class going on at the same time, and seat audience members next to each other only if they were in the same household, both of which would have been impossible to enforce.
The Shedd is a venue with three different performance spaces, but also a school, they rent the building to other organizations, and they have a food service enterprise. “We’ve had to analyze the guidelines from all those perspectives,” says Jim.
In Phase 1 of reopening, in-person lessons could start again. Now with Phase 2, events can happen again with limitations, but the big question is if it makes financial sense. If a family sits together in the audience, six feet of seats around them must be blocked off for social distancing. “That’s a very peculiar seating pattern,” says Jim, “and how do you guarantee that people stay in their seats? We have to just grit our teeth and keep going.”
Ginevra says The Shedd is now creating a bi-monthly hard copy and online magazine entitled “Context.” “More of a journal or an ongoing program book,” Ginevra says, featuring artist profiles and the underbelly secrets of making a musical. “That shares the mission of why we started,” she says, “and keeps people active.”
Women’s Care, a health provider to women of all ages, faced an enormous challenge when the coronavirus hit. Telehealth became the new norm, so their doctors and midwives implemented it quickly and relatively seamlessly. Their team also converted their birthing and breastfeeding classes to webinars so pregnant women would not miss important information. To protect patients, they made the difficult decision to allow only the patient in exam rooms, even for such joyful occasions as a couple’s first sonogram. PPE gear was scarce, so some doctors and their families were sewing masks at home. Community members even stepped up and donated homemade masks.
“We had to pivot as fast as we could,” says Josie Van Scholten, Women’s Care CEO. “Instead of planning for everything to be perfect, we just had to do the best we could. There were technical glitches that we had to work out with the patients at times, but we’re so proud of the team because they continued putting care first and got off and running so quickly. This was all new to us.”
Only one additional person was allowed in the delivery room, which was difficult for everyone. The hospital allowed only surgeries for acute needs, and the clinic was only allowed to see patients at half capacity, which made scheduling difficult. Now, an adult guest is allowed in ultrasounds. Visitors will have their temperatures checked and they have hired new staff for additional check-ins and cleaning. No matter what happens, telehealth, where it makes sense, is here to stay.
“We’re not 100 percent sure what the future will look like because the guidelines are changing every day, but we are looking forward to what’s next and to seeing as many patients safely as we can,” said Van Scholten.
Bounce Gymnastics & Circus Arts Center
Bounce opened for in-person aerial arts and gymnastic classes on June 1, but had to make some changes. For one, parents are not allowed in the building during class time except for those of young children.
“We’ve been working through a lot, spacing equipment out to make sure that everybody’s going to be at least six feet apart, how everybody would enter and leave the building, and how parents get in and out of the building or not be in the building,” says Naja Rossoff, Bounce owner. “There was a lot of behind the scenes actions to open safely, but it works.”
They’ve had to take away the upstairs viewing area to make more room for tumbling, but are working on a private viewing system so parents can watch from their cars. Bounce received some PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) funds, which helped keep them financially stable. Rossoff also purchased $11,000 worth of aerial silks so that they can be switched out after each child. “It’s an insane amount of money that’s gone into making it viable,” she says, “and it’s definitely a challenge.”
So far, the kids have adapted. They are staggering classes as much as possible so less people are in the building at the same time. They were able to offer summer camps starting mid-June, but birthday parties were a big draw for business, and those are still off the table.
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