A NEW ERA OF UNCERTAINTY
Last week, it was reported that Michigan tracked 7,185 new cases of COVID-19 and 35 virus-related deaths – an average of 2,395 cases over the past three days. That update brings the total number of confirmed COVID cases in Michigan to 995,910, including 20,700 deaths. These numbers are up from 988,725 cases and 20,665 deaths as of the prior week. Testing has increased to around 20,000 diagnostic tests reported per day on average, with the seven-day positive rate at 9.22 percent as of Friday. The positive test rate has been steadily climbing since the end of June. Hospitalizations have been steadily increasing for several weeks -– and as the positivity rate continues to rise, the historic Community House and its Foundation, made the difficult, but prudent decision to postpone its signature friend and fundraising celebration – The Bates Street Society Dinner and Awards Ceremony – from September 11, 2021 to April 30, 2022, and to limit large gatherings in the interim.
Based upon what we know now, and in close consultation with health experts, epidemiologists and the Oakland County Health Department, we believe it is prudent and responsible to put the health, safety and welfare of others, especially our seniors and children, above all else.
We recognize that many of our clients, supporters and nonprofit/civic groups are disappointed that The Community House has remained partially closed. So are we. We have valiantly battled forced closures, mass layoffs, two pandemics, loss of family members, illnesses, an unstable economy, fear amongst our loyal donors, staff, clients, and supporters – yet we continue to rise to the occasion. We remain hopeful, optimistic, and courageous.
Some have suggested that The Community House is no longer “open to all” based upon shortage of staff and our ability to serve or our need to increase our prices – unavoidable challenges directly related to COVID – including skyrocketing labor costs, food and beverage costs, utility and supply costs, fuel costs, employee burn out, not to mention two fiscal years of 50 percent plus revenue losses. Unimaginable. Almost insurmountable.
At the same time, let us be reminded that The Community House, now in its 98th year, is a 100 percent self-supporting, self-funded organization which relies solely on the kindness and generosity of others. We do not receive tax dollars, government support or regular outside funding. For nearly a century, we have relied on the kindness of others – supported by our few profit centers. But COVID has hurt everyone, including our generous donors. Our old business model before COVID is no longer sustainable.
Each year, The Community House strives to break even. We are a nonprofit. We give back all that we receive, after expenses. We are not in the business of making a profit. But we must steady the ship before we can help others.
Yet we remain proud and humbled that throughout the last 18 months, The Community House found financial and other ways via its fledgling Foundation to give back, support and/or provide grants to other “community” institutions also struggling throughout the pandemic including our city, our library, our Early Childhood Center families in financial desperation, local hospitals, essential workers, area restaurants, struggling hometown publications, our staff, volunteers and fellow nonprofit charitable organizations. We donated food and began wellness checks to our seniors. Charity comes in many forms. COVID called us to broaden our support beyond a few exclusive organizations. COVID challenged us to help the many, not just a few. It’s a noble change from old paradigms.
Our mission is to serve. Nothing less, nothing more. Short of an unexpected lifeline, we will continue to struggle. Unlike so many historical institutions, universities, medical centers, noble causes – many donors do not think of The Community House as a place to make large transformational gifts to. But we pray that they take a second look, we’re worth it. The 38 Community Houses across our nation are rare cultural, educational and philanthropic gems. They fill a need; they fill a gap that so many depend upon. Pre-COVID, over 200,000 people entered through our doors annually. After nearly a century of service we must be doing something right.
On top of all of the challenges we have faced over the last 18 months, postponing our largest, most significant fundraising event, The Bates Street Society Dinner and regular large gatherings will hurt. But, not as much as it would be to place the health, safety and welfare of those that are entrusted to us in jeopardy. Please stay safe and be well.
William D. Seklar is President & CEO of The Community House and The Community House Foundation in Birmingham.