For today’s Q&A with a local organization, we talk to New Canaan’s Sheri West, CEO and founder of LiveGirl. West shares with us some of the key spring and summer dates for LiveGirl, which also plans to mail more than 500 copies of its “Camp LiveGirl” activity book this summer.
Here’s our interview.
New Canaanite: You have a staff at LiveGirl. One of the things that we are hearing from nonprofits is that part of what is really hard right now is their revenue streams are eroding or disappearing altogether, at least for the spring. How are you all faring at LiveGirl?
Sheri West: We have two full-time employees and we were fortunate to qualify for a payroll protection loan, though Bankwell, so we are very fortunate. I think we are in the same boat as a lot of the nonprofits, in that we run one big annual fundraiser every year and it is our May art exhibit in partnership with the Carriage Barn. And we were unable to reschedule that because the CB is full in the fall. So we are proceeding with both a virtual art gallery and a virtual benefit. The art gallery runs May 27th to June 7th, so that will be online through the Carriage Barn website, and then we are running a virtual benefit on May 31st. And to your point, overall it is a tough time in the economy. It is a tough time for for-profit businesses as well as nonprofits and we are anticipating a loss of fundraising income. But we are hopeful that our donors are going to take a look at how quickly we adapted online and continue to support us through our annual appeal. We have only adapted our regular programs but also added new community support programs. We will point our donors to that and the impact we have had during the pandemic, because we actually present a lot of different connection points so that girls can remain engaged, active and connected to the LiveGirl community during this time of isolation. And we believe our donors can see that impact and appreciate that impact.
So tell me what is it about this situation right now with the COVID-19 public health emergency that makes LiveGirl so important to its girls and young women?
It’s the isolation and the fact that COVID 19 and the quarantines have triggered mental health issues for a lot of young people. So in fact we know that our girls and young women need LiveGirl more now than ever. A lot of experts are predicting that there will be PTSD effects from quarantining, both social-emotional and psychological effects. So we are, one, maintaining that connection now and, two, working with experts on PTSD support units for when we can resume our in-person programs.
What are you doing virtually and what sort of response or demand are you seeing for that?
We have quickly adapted and moved our regular programs online so we have virtual Confidence Clubs and The League is our high school program. So those programs have been meeting via Zoom and Google Hangout. And we have also added a number of different parent support programs—for example, we did a ‘Coping with COVID Anxiety’ with Tracey Masella, and this week we are doing a session called ‘Pandemic Parenting’ with Good Morning America’s Rachel Simmons. And we have had very strong demand for our programs and, in fact, the reach of our programs has extended dramatically compared to our in-person programs, which are limited to Connecticut. We have had an audience nationwide for many of our virtual workshops and webinars.
What are your plans for Camp LiveGirl this summer?
You are going to make me really sad, because we have decided that due to the ongoing COVID concerns and the health and safety requirements that are being put in place this summer that we will proceed with virtual camp this summer. It’s really sad, but we feel like that is just the right decision for the health and safety for our staff and campers. As a side note, we are putting in place a tech loaner plan. One of the things we are committed to, as you know, Mike, is that we are supporting under-served, at-risk youth. Many of whom do not have access to technology at home. So we are putting in place a laptop loan plan for the virtual camp.
What’s your message for the girls and young women of LiveGirl?
Our message is that the silver lining of this is that these young people have the opportunity right now to develop resilience and leadership in uncertainty, which is something that a lot of adults can’t do. A lot of adults are having a really, really hard time operating in this environment where they can’t control everything. And so we should actually be looking at the bright side of this for our young people, that they are gaining this experience and, again, developing the experience and skills to operate in an environment of uncertainty.