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COVID-19 affected Will County nonprofits in unique ways. Here’s how Will County Children’s Advocacy Center in Joliet addressed it.

8 nonprofits share how they survived, met the increased need and challenges in 2021

will county cac

Editor’s note: This is the eighth installment of an eight-part series.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nonprofits, especially nonprofits that provide health and human services, in very unique ways.

For instance, the need for their services increased – up to 300% in some cases – while nonprofits’ ability to fundraise to meet the need decreased.

Capacity restrictions and mitigations to keep staff and clients safe while providing the much-needed services added to the challenges.

In a December 2020 Herald-News story, United Way of Will County spokesperson Sarah Oprzedek said 30% of people in Will County were just over the poverty line, which meant they made too much to receive assistance and not enough to pay for necessities.

But even though society has opened back up doesn’t mean families and nonprofits have recovered from last year.

So the Herald-News recently asked eight Will County nonprofits the following questions: What was your biggest need pre-COVID? How did COVID affect your ability to serve your clients – as well as your ability to fundraise? What strategies did you implement? What is the biggest challenge for your organization in 2021?

Here is how the Will County Children’s Advocacy Center, which provides serves to children who’ve experience “severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect and exposure to violence, it’s website said, answered those questions.

Lisa Morel Las, the executive director of the Will County Children’s Advocacy Center, said in a Facebook message that increased office space to accommodate the growing case load was the center’s biggest need – until the pandemic hit.

“We all had overwhelming feelings of uncertainty and loss due to our normal routines abruptly changing. We were also faced with so much uncertainty about how to plan for the future,” Las said in an email. “However, it also forced us to think creatively and establish new procedures to ensure that our vital work continued.

As soon as Illinois shut down, Will County state’s attorney James Glasgow, the staff at the advocacy center, law enforcement and the Department of Children and Families Services worked together “to ensure kids received the care they needed to heal from severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect and exposure to violence, Las wrote.

Advocacy staff also shared their fears about the healthy and safety of family, friends and work colleagues, she said.

“Through careful planning, the use of PPE, social distancing, regular cleaning of the CAC, and HIPPA-compliant video conferencing/video storage solutions – we were able to continue providing forensic interview, advocacy, and specialized trauma therapy services through a hybrid mix of in-person visits and telehealth services,” Las wrote.

Unfortunately, the center had to cancel its annual “Men Who Cook” fundraiser, which the center had held for 11 years. But services were able to continue.

“We were grateful to have received funding from the Will County Board to put toward our program costs,” Las wrote in an email. “And we dipped into our money reserve/savings.”

The main challenges for 2021 was “deciding if, when and how to adapt our programs back to pre-COVID fully in-person service delivery” and addressing the office space now that staff are back to work in-person.

However, it looks as if the center may be moving that space in spring of 2022.

Las said that through the efforts of Glasgow, Will County executive Jennifer Bertino Tarrant and the Will County board one of the medical buildings on the former Silver Cross Hospital campus in Joliet was purchased few months ago. The plan is to house both the center and the Will County Veteran’s Assistance Commission in that building, Las said.

This expanded space will allow the center to expand its services, Las said. Because, unfortunately, Las fully expects more kids to need services this year through the center.

“During the shutdown, many kids were trapped where they were most likely to suffer abuse and kept away from the caring professionals who usually spot and report it,” Las wrote in a Facebook message. “We expect more cases this year than any year before, now that children are going back to school, sports, church etc. – activities around teachers and other adults who can report it [abuse].”

For more information about the Will County Children’s Advocacy Center, visit willcountycac.org.