Adjusting to the Coronavirus Times
With the emergence of the novel coronavirus, Assemblies of God U.S. missionary chaplains Gary and Tammie Webb had to make some major adjustments to their nonprofit ministry, OCJ Kids. The Phoenix-based ministry focuses on connecting churches with kids and youth in the foster system. It utilizes mentors, special events, and other programs designed to offer support and encouragement to the children and staff in group homes.
Along with the OCJ staff and volunteers, the Webbs developed a COVID-19 contingency plan that separated the nonessential services from the essential ones. When it became necessary, they reallocated resources to only the approved services. These included all emergency removal services such as Go-Kits (pajamas, diapers, wipes) and Cuddle Bags (blanket, stuffed animal, snacks, hygiene items, small pillow, activity book, and crayons) provided when children must leave their home quickly.
“We lost the use of our ‘granny’ team of 10 retired ladies who volunteer three days a week to build all of our resource kits,” says Webb, 55. “To fulfill all the new and increased requests for these kits, we established building days for our staff and family groups from local churches to help us build as many kits as possible.”
OCJ Kids secured a couple of COVID-19 grants. The ministry made phone calls to child protective services offices statewide and, with part of these funds, purchased and made deliveries (in their Speed the Light vehicle) of the requested items.
“We walk into their office with the items and they begin to cry,” Webb says. “They repeatedly tell us thank you.”
“The greatest impact overall is the loss of weekly visits to the group homes, which then impacts the kids and youth in the homes,” says Shevaun Sullivan, director of Group Home Relations. “Our house mentors are doing their best to keep in contact with the youth in the homes they are connected with — providing activities and special notes to help the group homes stay sane during this time.”
To provide much-needed relief to kids and staff stuck in group homes because of the lockdown, OCJ launched a spring recess program, which has proven to be a triumph with both the kids and the group home agencies. The spring recess outreach allows each of the seven participating group homes to bring kids to OCJ at a specified time for special activities. Because the residences house 10 or fewer children, that meets the established COVID-19 guidelines. Each group arrives at the freshly sanitized facility for their appointed time, and the kids participate in fun games and craft activities. When they leave, each member receives a resource bag containing snacks, stuffed toys, beverages, cleaning and paper supplies, and pizza gift cards for the entire house.
“We are excited to minister to people in the foster care world who have lots of fear due to this virus,” says Webb. “We have been able to pray with both CPS supervisors and group home staff.”
One of the flourishing features of the OCJ Kids ministry is the Journey into Adulthood program intended to help youth prepare for the transition to independent living when they age out of the system. Journey into Adulthood provides mentors to help guide the youth to develop a life plan and exit strategy. Because of the lockdown, mentors are not allowed in the group homes and only have limited access to phone calls and computer conferences.
For youth who already aged out, OCJ Kids took a new approach. The ministry focused on helping the youth pay small bills and provided food gift cards to help with their expenses because of job losses. OCJ Kids representatives also call the youth weekly to talk about their emotional health and well-being. Though one-on-one meetings are restricted, virtual connections with this group have increased and been expanded to address new issues they face.
“We continue to adapt to meet their individual needs, but they are struggling being on their own, with no parental guidance and support,” Webb says. “More youth than ever are calling into our office so we can track their living conditions and find out how they are coping.”