Alana Walczak has been CEO of CALM since 2015. Prior to that, she spent over 20 years working with nonprofits to help at-risk women, children, and families. “When you’re doing your life’s work, it’s so powerful,” she reflects. CALM continues to be the only nonprofit agency in Santa Barbara County focused solely on preventing, assessing, and treating child abuse and family violence through comprehensive, cutting-edge programs.
Walczak is a powerful force in Santa Barbara County and throughout the nonprofit sector. She offers excellent observations about the current pandemic challenges and valuable advice for how parents, leaders, teachers, and all of us can deal with these struggles. Most importantly, she focuses our attention on creating a positive future for ourselves, our children, and our community.
>>CALM has joined many healthcare providers in pivoting to delivering services via telehealth.
“Our staff have transitioned to providing all clinical offerings via telehealth – HIPAA compliant phone sessions and video calls. It was very hard to make this transition, but the staff did it well and did it quickly because we were motivated to provide critical mental health services to children and families who need us during this tremendous crisis.
Likely telehealth will become part of healthcare, including mental health service delivery in the future. Using telehealth, we can do more sessions of shorter duration throughout the week, thereby giving clients a lifeline. It has been quite remarkable to see staff pivot so quickly and have so many clinical successes in such short order.
Just a few staff (1-3) are in the office now as we honor social distancing. It’s heartbreaking to see the vacant therapy rooms, but we know that it’s important for our staff to be working from their homes. And the work continues – just in a different way. I am proud of our organization at every level: staff, donors, and board.
>>April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Our work is more important than ever. Sadly, we know that not every home is safe for every child. With shelter-in-place orders, families staying home in tight confines, and schools closed, we are seeing spikes in child abuse and incidents of domestic violence. It’s so important to get the word out about CALM’s work during these stressful times.
We know that child abuse increases as a result of increased stress, so it’s not surprising that abuse is increasing. Parents are dealing with so many unknowns: loss of jobs, decrease in finances, dealing with children at home, and some trying to work from home themselves. They are experiencing so much grief over the loss and fear of the outcome of the pandemic. All of this affects the little ones.
>>CALM provides critical mental health services to our elementary schools.
I am so proud of our team because they are responding to these needs. In just three days, we were able to respond to 25 new requests for therapeutic service. CALM has been a mental health provider for elementary schools in our school districts and now we are partnering with teachers to offer families digital learning around social-emotional health—things like meditation and mindfulness. We also support teachers in all that they are feeling – they are overwhelmed in transitioning their teaching to a digital platform, grief over the loss of their classes, and the stress of knowing their students might be in unsafe environments. We are working in partnership with teachers as they look for ways to support their students and families, even in these new times.
The nonprofit sector is the most creative sector. During these times of uncertainty, nonprofits bridge the gap between government and business. We jump in, we innovate, we work together to find creative solutions. The need for CALM’s services is greater than ever before and we are here to provide those services even though they look a little different than before this pandemic. My staff has dug deep to find new ways to do their important work.
>>Cancelled fundraising events dramatically decrease revenue, making philanthropic support more important than ever.
Like many organizations, CALM is dealing with revenue shortages from canceled events, reduced contributions, and changes in staffing. Given the need, our board has committed to keeping our staff whole, but many staff members have young families and so they are taking family leave. Some of our staff are sick or are taking care of sick loved ones. All of this results in operational juggling for nonprofits. We had contingency plans and a succession plan already in place and we are operationalizing our business continuity plan.
We don’t know how our fundraising will be impacted but we are glad that our state and county funding continue for now. For now, staff are being paid and receiving their usual benefits. Our board takes this seriously. But we are not sure about how funding will be affected in future years.
Of course, we need philanthropic support more than ever in order to continue our important work. Hopefully, the community will continue to contribute to the organizations they know and trust.
>>This is an excellent time for nonprofits to find ways to collaborate and ask good questions.
To other nonprofits, I would say that in times of great uncertainty no one has all the answers and things change so fast. Leaders must ask good questions even when we don’t have the answers. Leaders must continue to ask how this situation is impacting the most vulnerable among us. How are we meeting the needs of those who are not in the room or on the zoom call? How are these uncertain times impacting those who already have trauma histories? How is this pandemic uniquely impacting families of color or families of limited economic means? As leaders, we need to be the voice of those who don’t have a voice right now.
Although we are busy confronting the crisis at hand, we must also be exploring what the future of the social sector looks like, and how we can redefine it – and hopefully strengthen it – for the future. We need to be looking ahead, asking the right questions.
We all must work in connection with each other. As individuals, we are all seeking and desiring connection. Organizationally we need to do that as well. This issue is bigger than anyone can solve alone so let’s bolster each other up. Look above and beyond our individual mandates or mission and think about the community as a whole.
Communication is so important right now. There is so much fear and bad news out there. Nonprofits need to be focusing on communicating with staff, board, donors, clients, and the entire community. We especially need to communicate with other nonprofits. Let’s ask how we are working together to build hope and resilience.
We must build a vision of hope throughout the nonprofit sector. We must send a message of what we hope our community will be in a few months by painting that picture and then designing operational plans for both external and internal constituencies.
>>The next wave of pandemic challenges will be mental health needs.
The stressors of social distancing, having our children at home, economic impacts, and social isolation will increase depression and anxiety. Those in the mental health area need to ask how we can work together to meet the growing mental health needs. Soon each of us will know someone who has passed away from the virus. Grief and loss will reach new levels, so we need to look at the health of the entire community.
It’s so important to focus on building resiliency now—individually and collectively. This is what CALM does. There is a tremendous need for building resiliency in individuals and organizations. It’s a way of being now and for the foreseeable future. People need to take good care of themselves, especially those of us in leadership positions. We need to make sure that we are healthy and resilient in the long-term.
It’s the simple things that are important: enough sleep, good nutrition, and getting outside to reconnect with nature. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful place. We need to help our bodies reset our fight or flight response, especially as we tune into the breaking news stories of the day. Let’s be informed but not become addicted to the news, especially bad news. Remember that we are setting the tone for our children, our families, our employees, and our community.
>>Adults must frame these challenges in a realistic but positive light for their children.
Those who are juggling work and parenting, please keep in mind that our children will remember this experience based on how adults convey it to them. So if we are able to answer their questions, be available to them, and spend dedicated time with them, that’s what they will remember.
My young daughter recently said to me, “It’s weird not being at school but I like having more time with you, Mommy.” Often we feel we aren’t giving enough time to our children or our community or our work, but we are. The most important way to build resilience in a child is to have a healthy, loving connection with an adult. Let’s all give loving attention and connection to our children.
Like many today, I am working from home. My typical routine is to spend some time working and then take a break to spend time with my children, and then go back to a Zoom call. I am trying hard to stay grounded and available to them. This is happening across the world. We are all in this together.
>>Be sure to ask for help and check on others who may need your help.
In the midst of our emotional ups and downs, we must ask for help. Check on colleagues and friends. I find myself buoyed by colleagues. So I find ways of building connections with others. We’re all going through our own emotional journey but we are stronger together.
Many organizations are struggling now. Take heart, we are going to get through this. There are different layers of recovery and this impact will last for years. We are in this for the long haul, so stay healthy and stay connected. Recovery will take enduring spirit because it will be really big.
>>Let’s all focus on hope for a bright future.
Every week on Facebook, I like to give examples of people who give me hope. I am doing this when I have inspiration. I like making it personal and being honest about my own journey. Even though we are leaders, we are humans first. This seems to be resonating with people. People need hope and we need to stay connected. The CALM website has lots of tools and resources for parents, teachers, and the community.
It is an honor for me to lead my organization during this time. Things are uncertain for so many, but I am privileged to do such life-saving work on behalf of the many children and families who need us right now. CALM is here to support the community for as long as we are needed.”