April 07, 2020

No Matter What

A message from our Board of Directors.

Dear friends and supporters of Friends–Austin,

I hope this message finds you and your family healthy and safe.

On behalf of the Friends–Austin Board of Directors, I wanted to share with you the work and actions our team has taken during these uncertain times. The children we serve, and their families, now have an even greater need for consistency, stability and assistance, which – because of your support – we have been able to respond to quickly.

Our theme of ‘No Matter What’ has guided us the past few weeks, as we have pivoted to support these families as they encounter food insecurity, job losses and homelessness. Here are a few examples of our work in the past three weeks:

  • Food & Core Supplies: When schools closed on March 13, the Friends team immediately started delivering fresh meals, fruit and snacks, non-perishable food, cleaning and hygiene products, books and academic packets to our families. The majority of our youth receive most of their food at school, which made immediate food coverage a top priority. Deliveries began that first weekend and have continued 2 times per week since.

  • Academic & Technological Support: Friends began communicating with youth virtually, and we quickly realized that most of our families share a single cell phone and have no computer or Wi-Fi. In fact, more than 60 percent of our youth’s households did not have the technology for them to be able to access virtual learning, once the schools started providing it. In an amazing gesture of generosity, one of our donors sponsored the purchase of 58 Chromebooks, which our team has outfitted with custom curriculum and costly programming, all of which we secured as in-kind donations. Friends can now spend valuable hours interfacing with their youth, enabling continued work on social, emotional and academic skills until school resumes.

  • Community Partnerships: Friends are conducting ongoing assessments for each of our families, so we know exactly what they need most. We have connected our families with any resources and services in the community that are available at this time.

  • We have reconfirmed that we are on-track with our FY20 operating plan for fundraising, hiring and retention of Friends and delivering top-quality program support to our currently enrolled 96 program youth.

  • We have seen phenomenal, early results from our CASA partnership and have successfully on-boarded 15 foster care youth into the program.

  • We have instituted a hiring freeze, and our Board is proactively considering various scenarios for FY20-21 and our multi-year scaling plan to prioritize currently enrolled youth.

  • We are revisiting every line item in the budget and reallocating funds to ensure continued Friend employment, including a request for rent abatement.

  • We are evaluating and taking advantage of all public funding opportunities, including applying for the CARES Act SBA loan program.

  • We are revamping our annual spring event to better engage our supporters during this time of social distancing.

  • We are meeting with our strategic foundation partners to discuss restructuring grants, as well as seeking additional funds.

Going forward, our goal is to ensure that our 14 salaried, full-time and trained Friends are able to continue to serve their 96 youth, as well as more than 500 additional family members, for the long-term 12+ year commitment, no matter what. This focus on sustainability is our top priority as a Board, and given the current uncertainty ahead, we have put the following actions into motion:

Each year, 100 percent of our Board contributes financially, at a level that covers all administrative costs on an annual basis. This is unique for a direct-service nonprofit, and a proof point that our Board has never been more committed to our mission than we are today.

I am also inspired by the commitment of our staff. We have heard from multiple staff members, in a variety of positions, who have offered to take significant salary cuts, if needed, as they see firsthand the impact this work has on our program youth and our community. As a Board, we are dedicated to maintaining the financial health and strength of our organization to ensure those sacrifices will not be necessary.

We run a streamlined, efficient and highly effective operation, and we are here for the long-haul. As you consider which local organizations you will support in the community during these trying times, we ask that you keep Friends–Austin on the top of your list, so that we can keep each of these children on the top of ours.

Rachel Arnold, Board Chair