Monday, May 11, 2020 / by Ken Couture
The new reality of the global pandemic really hit home for Opportunity Village president and CEO Bob Brown when he went grocery shopping.
“It was just such a shock to me,” Brown says of the empty shelves. For him, the shortages were a lesson in community: “That’s really what this is teaching people—that we’re all in this together. It’s about working as a community together and making sure that people are taken care of.”
Since 1954, Opportunity Village has served local adults with intellectual disabilities. The beloved Las Vegas charity offers a plethora of programs, focused on everything from employment to the arts. In response to the state business shutdown, the charity closed its campuses on March 18.
We checked in with Brown to learn how his organization continues to serve in new—and socially distant—ways.
On its mission: We’re an organization that speaks to compassion, and I think that that’s what we’re demonstrating through all this. We made a decision to pay our staff through the crisis, which is very difficult for a nonprofit.
On continuing that mission during the COVID-19 crisis: We’re full steam ahead when it comes to serving our clients. We just couldn’t congregate them at our facilities, because it’s just too dangerous. … We’re doing the best we can to keep [clients] connected on social media. We’re calling our families. We’re making sure everybody’s OK. We’re coming up with activities. Our family engagement group is really busy right now. We also are doing some in-home service, which we’ve never done before. So a lot of what we’re seeing is how we’re going to operate in the future. We just had to go there really quickly.
We do have some work that we’re doing that’s considered vital. We’re still at Nellis Air Force Base, delivering the mail. A lot of our janitorial contracts are still working, because we have to keep things clean. I’m very proud of our staff that works in those areas—at McCarran Airport, at Nellis Air Force Base, at our federal buildings—keeping things clean.
On offering in-home services under lockdown: [We’re] caring for people—just going in, working with them in their homes, giving caretakers a little bit of a rest. That’s the key. A lot of our clients are very high-energy. I’m a parent myself. I have a disabled daughter, and she’s been at home with us and it’s difficult on our family. We’ve got to take care of her 24/7. So giving people a little bit of a break, that’s hugely important for families.
On staying home: Sitting at my desk, my biggest worry is that everybody’s safe. So staff is home, they’re able to pay their bills and they’re safe. That certainly gives me a lot of solace. ... [The volunteer program] has been suspended for now. We’re so appreciative of the governor and his actions, because I firmly believe it saves thousands of lives, shutting everything down. That was bold, and it was the right thing to do.
On new projects: We’ll be opening Betty’s Village next year-— housing for people with disabilities. That’s still on schedule. We’re still doing construction. It’s going to be amazing—world class-.
On gratitude: I spoke to a friend who runs an organization in upstate New York yesterday, and he was telling me that two of his staff have died and about six of his clients have died. It just broke my heart. That could have been Opportunity Village. So we’re just very grateful and thankful that everybody’s OK so far. … These are terrific people ,and you want everybody to be safe.
On financial need: The third coronavirus bill that went through Congress does not include a remedy for businesses over 500 on forgivable loans, so Opportunity Village is fighting to get some sort of clarity on that. … I’m frustrated that there’s no relief for our employees for Opportunity Village.
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