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COVID Response: Pandemic infuses new sense of urgency for Springboard to Opportunities

COVID-19, Human Services

Editor’s note: Since March, Kresge partners have responded to COVID in inspiring ways. Over the next few weeks, we are profiling eight such partners, who are also featured in our upcoming annual report on racial equity, Inside Out & Outside In.

By Loren Berlin

Unlike the roughly 14 million Americans who have lost their jobs since COVID-19 brought the nation’s economy to a near standstill beginning in mid-March, most of Springboard to Opportunities’ clients — Black women living in subsidized housing in Mississippi — remain employed.

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Their challenge? Managing the potential dangers of their work, says Springboard CEO Aisha Nyandoro.

“So many of the people I work with are having to make the decision to continue to go to work because they are considered essential employees — the individuals who stock the grocery store, the home health aides, the truck drivers, the bus drivers,” she says. “Those folks have not been able to go home and shelter in place and be safer at home.”

As Nyandoro sees it, the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on her clients and other families of color is another version of a story she has observed for years.

“The health care crisis up against the economic crisis up against the food insecurity crisis and the education crisis — all of those crises have been the realities for the families I have worked with for their entire lives,” she explains. “What COVID-19 is doing is exposing the severe economic inequalities that exist in our country for everyone to bear witness to. The emergency existed before the virus. The virus is just accelerating it.”

In response, Nyandoro’s work hasn’t changed so much as it has become laser focused —  grounded in a new sense of urgency and importance.

“Our message isn’t different. But I am sounding the alarm much louder because our failure to respond at the federal level will continue to have detrimental impacts at the community level, and the community level is my people,” she says. “I am seeing this avalanche coming for the families I work with, so I feel more vocal now about the need to bring to the table the people and communities who aren’t being heard or listened to.”

Additionally, Springboard has expanded its guaranteed income initiative in which each participant receives $1,000 a month for 12 consecutive months to use as they see fit, from 80 women to 110. In the wake of COVID-19, the organization also launched an emergency fund to offer one-time, $500 cash dispersals for clients to address an immediate, acute need.

While Nyandoro is glad to be able to offer the additional resources, she also feels they are wholly inadequate to address the magnitude of the problems facing the families she works with and the larger structural inequities that continue to limit economic opportunities for people of color.

“What we are doing is a drop in the bucket,” she says. “What we need is a coordinated, systematic, federal response to this, because otherwise we are just throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something will stick. The sad reality is that families need much more than any of us can do alone right now.”

Loren Berlin  is a guest writer. Learn more about Springboard to Opportunities in Kresge’s upcoming report on equity, Inside Out & Outside In, coming in September.

Kresge staff is working remotely, and our offices are closed until further notice.  See our promise to partners during COVID-19.
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