CINCINNATI — The COVID-19 pandemic changed how business is being done on a daily basis, and, while safety precautions are being rolled back, one Cincinnati-based nonprofit has adapted to a new model in order to stay ahead.
“I think this is the future, there are a few things we’ve retooled to help accommodate our volunteers during the course of the pandemic that I think are going to stay and I think this is one of them,” said Aaron Grant, volunteer program manager for People Working Cooperatively.
In March of 2020, PWC's entire volunteer workforce -- tied to hundreds of projects every year -- was gone in the blink of an eye.
“We weren’t sure what we could do,” Grant said. “We knew we had to do something, the work was too important.”
People Working Cooperatively is a non-profit construction company with a focus on helping people stay in their homes by doing critical repairs and accessibility modification services.
When not faced with a pandemic, they handle thousands of cases and assist close to 9,000 people a year in southwestern Ohio, southeastern Indiana and northern Kentucky, according to their website.
That’s why Grant thought it was so important for his team to retool the volunteer workers side of the equation for their two annual volunteer campaigns, Prepare Affair in the Fall and Repair Affair in the Spring, by turning the single Saturday events into month-long ones.
“Initially, it was so we could make sure people had a day and maybe a backup day 14 days away just in case, God forbid, something happened to them or their crew, but now it means people can find a day that works for them, their friends their co-workers or whatever group they’re putting together,” Grant said.
PWC was fortunate that the drive to volunteer in the midst of a pandemic brought out 1,500 people during the fall Prepare Affair. Crews spread out across the Tri-State October and November 2020 to rake leaves and clean up properties ahead of the winter.
Now they’re into the spring Repair Affair, which focuses on everything from stair and sidewalk repairs, porch replacements and handrail installations to provide accessibility improvements for homeowners.
“We’re going to help them from falling when they’re leaving their home; we’re going to allow them to go to the doctor or other things they want to do in their life,” said Stephanie Lambers, Tri-Health Community Benefit Special Projects Consultant.
Lambers also serves on the PWC board. When WCPO spoke with her, she had a team from Tri-Health volunteering to install handrails along a homeowner’s sidewalk: a simple accessibility improvement that could prevent a fall and serious injury, which can cost much more than some of PWC’s clients can afford.
“It is several thousand dollars for healthcare costs for just hospitalization from a fall, and for us to be able to make this small investment with time from Tri-Health team members, versus outlying thousands of dollars it could cost for someone for their care,” Lambers said. “To actually make that difference out in the community we’re so happy to do that.”
Grant said he knows it will take time to bring back volunteer levels to where they were pre-pandemic, but said he believes they will garner more support for their two volunteer events as COVID-19 restrictions ease up.
“We hope that by spreading it out over the month and giving people more flexibility, we can connect them to even more homes that need our help,” Grant said.
He also points out that while the Prepare Affair and Repair Affair are just two annual events, there are volunteer opportunities year-round and the list of projects that need help is always growing.
“Whatever your skill level, whatever your time commitment, whatever part of town you want to work in there’s probably somebody who needs your help and we’d be glad to connect them to you,” Grant said.
You can find out more about volunteering with People Working Cooperatively by calling Aaron Grant at 513-351-7921 or visiting the non-profit's website.