Fox Valley Hands of Hope (FVHH) continues to provide compassionate guidance and support for the grieving at no cost to the community. In the time of COVID-19, when grief seems relentless, we understand that our community needs us now more than ever. That is why it has been the main focus of the agency to bring forth new, innovative programming and support to ensure that we are meeting the immediate needs of our clients and in the safest ways possible.
Impacts from the Pandemic
COVID-19 has brought forth many implications for the agency both internally and externally. FVHH’s clients, volunteers, and staff are the first priorities of the organization, therefore it was imperative for the agency to quickly implement safety measures in order to keep everyone healthy and well.
Due to State restrictions, FVHH had to either postpone or change the service model of several of our outreach groups and direct support services held in hospices, homeless shelters, nursing homes, schools, and other public facilities. Initially this was disappointing, as it greatly limited the organization’s ability to access clients. Furthermore, many FVHH volunteers had to take a brief hiatus in their supportive roles so that they could tend to the basic needs of themselves and their families amidst the pandemic. The medical equipment Lending Closet, which serves over 500 people each year, was also temporarily suspended because the processes of returning and cleaning equipment was too great of a health risk for staff. Before the pandemic, FVHH staff commuted to the Support Center, located in Geneva, for work. Soon after the outbreak, staff pivoted to conducting their work remotely. Existing and prospective clients were encouraged to email the agency at firstname.lastname@example.org as the best form of contact.
FVHH had four fundraising events scheduled for 2020. We were fortunate that our first fundraising event for the fiscal year, “Bid For Hope”, was scheduled for April and was always intended to be a virtual auction. FVHH introduced the Inaugural Golf Classic on August 31st. This event was an in-person, but socially distanced day of golfing fun! We did have to postpone our “Garden Walk” event, originally scheduled for June 2020 and our “Walk to Remember” event, originally scheduled for September 2020 due to the pandemic restrictions.
What the Organization is Doing Now
While the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic was and still is jarring, the restrictions lead FVHH to search for alternative delivery methods of grief services. This includes offering individual sessions via telephone or Zoom, providing select group programming via Zoom, continuing supportive companionship to nursing home and hospice patients via letter writing and gift delivery, offering community education such a webinars on grief via our website and social media platforms, and developing grief education via webinars to our school partners.
Examples of the programs and support that the agency is offering or has offered during this time include:
- Individual Support – Clients meet one-on-one with a clinician or volunteer to receive support and learn how to cope with their loss(es).
- Crossroads – A program designed specifically for those who have gone through the Pathways group. These Participants have journeyed through some of the initial stages of loss and are now prepared to seek a new direction in life.
- M.A.L.E.S. (Men After a Loss Expressing themselves Safely) – A support group specifically for men who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Here guys can “let go” and freely express their thoughts and feelings with other men who are experiencing the same challenges.
- Passages – This new group is for parents who are struggling with the loss of their spouse while simultaneously trying to help their children grieve through a loss.
- Huggable Bear Program – One of FVHH’s gracious volunteers crafts teddy bears out of the client’s deceased loved one’s clothing
- Grieving in the time of COVID-19 – This guidance video was presented to the public via social media and website platforms. Counselor, Pam Bills, LPC discusses how grieving during a pandemic can be difficult and different, and guides viewers on how to cope with the change.
- Letters to Nursing Home Patients – In lieu of compassionate visits, FVHH volunteers have been writing and sending letters to the Nursing Home patients that they are unable to come in contact with at this time due to COVID-19. Letters include on-going supportive conversations, well-wishes, gifts, and games.
- Pathways – A weekly group that is currently running and will conclude on September 22nd. Here clients navigate their losses related to the death of a spouse or life partner.
- Project Hope – In partnership with 46 schools in the Fox River Valley, this program is for students struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one. Traditionally held within the school-setting this program will now be offered to students virtually. School Social Workers help identify grieving students and then refer them to this program.
- Con los brazos abiertos – This drop-in grief group will be available as participants sign up and is for Spanish-speaking individuals. Participants will have the opportunity to explore their grief while being supported by clients of similar circumstances, as well as FVHH clinicians and volunteers.
- When Helpers Feels Helpless – This virtual group will launch September 9th and is for FVHH volunteers and FVHH community partners (such as school Social Workers) to help guide them on supporting themselves if they are suffering while supporting others.
- COVID-19 Coping Group – This drop-in group will launch September 16th and is for people who have lost a loved-one due to the pandemic.
Despite the restrictions with our collaborative partners and volunteers, FVHH is proud to have not turned away a single client in need since the pandemic began. Additionally, the clinicians’ ability to develop new programming to fit the current needs of the community has been a success for the agency. We are also excited by the eager responses we are receiving from partners and FVHH volunteers now that there are more virtual options available and in-person safety guidelines are available.
In recent months FVHH staff have been phasing back into the office in order to thoughtfully develop a safe work environment and safe space for clients. Currently, there are two staff members in the office on a rotating schedule, allowing each team member one to two days in the office per week. Those who are in-office must wear a mask at all times. Staff who are not in the office on any given day, are working remotely instead.
The Support Center has also been transformed to follow safety guidelines carefully for when the time comes for us to fully open our doors to the public again. The guidelines include new instructions for Lending Closet clients, marked seating in the conference room, as well as new procedures for employees and volunteers regarding the use of shared equipment such as microwaves, coffee pot, water dispensers, etc. For more information on the new guidelines for the lending closet, click here.
As previously mentioned, the current goal of the organization is to provide support that meets the client’s immediate needs, and do so in the safest ways possible. To better understand the current grief needs of the community FVHH recently distributed a community grief support survey which can be viewed and completed by following this link. Our organization will continue to be receptive to the community’s most relevant grief needs as we forge ahead.
Life in a pandemic brings forth new changes every day, so we will remain diligently prepared to roll with those waves as they come our way. FVHH is fortunate to have a strong volunteer corps, dedicated staff, collaborative partnerships, as well as gracious donors and funders that support us in so many ways and enable us to provide the most exemplary services to anyone in need at any time!