Service during the Pandemic: Students Reach Out to Community Partners

Members of the Upper School Student Service Board interviewed five non-profits to learn how they’re faring in challenging times. 


Lovett Student Service Board Community Partner Interview: Chastain Horse Park
 
Hailey Savage is a sophomore and member of the Lovett Student Service Board.  She talked with Trish Gross, parent of Lovett Student Sam Ehlers ‘23 and Executive Director of Chastain Horse Park, which is home to Lovett’s Equestrian Team.

Hailey: What would you say Chastain Horse Park’s mission is? 
 
Mrs. Gross: Our Mission is to empower riders of all abilities through life-changing relationships with horses. To elaborate on that, we are a city barn here in Atlanta, and we are one of the last city barns left in America. People are surprised when we say we have 60 horses on any given day within the Atlanta mailing address. Our mission and purpose for being on the piece of property here in a city park in Atlanta is our therapeutic program. 
 
Hailey: Can you tell me more about the therapeutic program?
 
Mrs. Gross: In our therapeutic program we serve children, teens, and adults with a broad range of cognitive, physical, and emotional or mental disabilities. We have volunteers who help with our therapeutic programs as a side walker or a lead. A side walker holds the rider’s leg while on the horse because the rider might not have good balance. The lead is the person who walks the horse around the ring.
 
We are a part of PATH, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. PATH is a governing body globally for all therapeutic programming, and Chastain is a premier credited center, which means we meet and exceed the highest standards in the industry.
 
Hailey: What changes has Chastain Horse Park had to make in response to the pandemic?
 
Mrs. Gross: We have had to stop all programming except our limited boarder program because we have very close contact with our therapeutic riders and because a number of our riders have compromised immune systems.
 
Hailey: What are Chastain Horse park’s greatest needs right now?
 
Mrs. Gross: I would say it is to raise awareness because so many people know Chastain Horse Park, but they don’t realize that we are a mission-driven organization. They don’t know that we are a non-profit. This biggest thing I think would be community awareness and fundraising. 
 
Hailey: What are some ways Lovett families can help right now and when this is all over?
 
Mrs. Gross: Volunteering is so valuable. Volunteers are donors because they are giving their time. We need volunteers across the board whether it is working with the horses, riders, families, help in the office, and summer projects. Right now we are challenged with the Social distancing situation, but volunteering is definitely something we are going to need after we get through this..
 
Our recurring volunteers are so important too because some kids have trouble adjusting to change, so when they see the same volunteer every week they have a much better outcome. We are always looking for expertise, so families that have legal skills, not that we have much legal stuff just resources that we could call on, who are willing to help us, and have professional skills. One thing we could do is have tours to invite people in and learn about Chastain, and we could have student ambassadors lead those tours.
 
Hailey: How can people volunteer if they have never been around horses before, and how can they learn? 
 
Mrs. Gross: To be a side walker, you do not have to have any horse knowledge at all. We have a 2 hour orientation, and orientations typically happen twice a month, once on an evening and once on a Saturday. Anyone can volunteer, but you have to be 14 years old to work with the horse, meaning to be a side walker or a leader. We do have younger kids come in to do projects but to work with the horses and riders you have to be 14. The horse leader needs to have a little more knowledge about horses to be able to take care of and brush that horse. 
 
Hailey: Lastly, is there any other information you would like for me to convey to Lovett students and their families?
 
Mrs. Gross: Another way to help is to follow us on social media. Share our story and educate yourself about Chastain Horse Park. Instagram: @chastainhorsepark, Facebook: @chastainhorsepark, Tiktok: @chastainhorsepark.
Learn more about Chastain Horse Park or make a donation here.
 
 
Lovett Student Service Board Community Partner Interview: Habitat for Humanity

Sophie Elve is a junior and member of the Student Service Board. She interviewed Mia Colson, Sponsorship Manager of Atlanta Habitat for Humanity.

Sophie: How has the pandemic affected the people you serve?

Ms. Colson: Some of our Atlanta Habitat homeowners are among the many people working in the areas hit hardest by this global pandemic: hospitality, service, and transportation. Affected homeowners are experiencing job loss or emergency financial hardship related to this crisis.  

Sophie: What changes has Habitat had to make in response to the pandemic? 

Ms. Colson: The Atlanta Habitat staff are working remotely during this crisis. We have learned to be adaptable as we continue to serve our homeowners and connect with sponsors. Our Repair with Kindness program continues to provide critical home repair services with the help of contractors. We are exploring ways to support our homeowners, including offering homeowner education classes online, opportunities to complete sweat-equity hours virtually, as well as engage with our donors, sponsors and volunteers in a whole new way. 

Sophie: What are your organization’s greatest needs right now?

Ms. Colson: With so much uncertainty, we must help our homeowners who are affected by this crisis now and for the long-term. They have invested sweat equity in building their homes and in meeting the rigorous requirements to have an affordable mortgage. Now, many of our families are struggling—from paying their mortgage to purchasing essential supplies, additional food, and resources for homeschooling. Atlanta Habitat families are committed, responsible, and determined; however, they need help navigating a new normal under already difficult financial conditions. To help, Atlanta Habitat has launched Home Matters Mortgage Relief Fund. Here is a short video about this support opportunity: Atlanta Habitat Home Matters

Sophie: What does reopening look like after this pandemic, and are there any foreseeable changes to the way things are run?

Ms. Colson: Atlanta Habitat’s Leadership Team is looking at all options to engage our stakeholders, which includes our homeowners, donors, volunteers and shoppers. Right now, we plan a phased reopening of our operations starting May 18, with some staff continuing to work remotely. Our new approach will include using virtual platforms and implementing new public health safety measures and social distancing guidelines at our build-sites, headquarters, warehouse and ReStore. Like many organizations, we are flexible and open as we chart this new normal. We will inform our dedicated supporters, such as the Lovett School, about any changes.

Sophie: What can Lovett families do to help?

Ms. Colson: While we all are uncertain about the effects this pandemic may have on us for the long-term, Atlanta Habitat knows that now more than ever, it’s essential for families to have an affordable and safe place to shelter during this crisis. We hope that Lovett families will consider helping through the Home Matters Mortgage Relief Fund.

Sophie: Is there any further information you’d like for me to convey to Lovett students and their families?

Ms. Colson: Atlanta Habitat is grateful for the compassion and support of Lovett students and families. This pandemic has impacted all of us in every way. We pray that your families remain healthy and safe, and that they know Atlanta Habitat is doing everything we can to provide an opportunity to stay connected to the Lovett families. We look forward to  building with you again soon.
 
 
Lovett Student Service Board Community Partner Interview: Agape Youth and Family Center

Luca Cousins and Cate Thompson are sophomores and members of the Student Service Board. They talked with Bridget Sivewright, Volunteer and Outreach Events Coordinator at Agape Youth and Family Center.
 
Luca and Cate: What is Agape’s mission?
 
Ms. Sivewright: Our mission is to empower and support underserved families within our community to discover, embrace, and achieve their full potential.
 
Luca and Cate: How has the pandemic affected the people you serve?
 
Ms. Sivewright: It has affected them in a lot of different ways. Atlanta Public Schools are closed, and so our students are working from home. About 15 percent of families have been laid off or had their hours cut back significantly. A lot of our families work unusual hours, so having their kids at home is especially challenging. Part of what we do with the after-school program is offer what is essentially daycare for our families, so to not have that is definitely challenging.
Our kids [used to] get breakfast and lunch at school and dinners at Agape, so meals during the week are not something our families typically have to budget for. Now that students are home, it affects their ability to have access to food. And then, of course, there's the natural strain of being at home: 85 percent of our families live in either a mobile home or apartment, so the amount of space they have is probably less than 800 square feet per family. It’s very crowded.
 
Luca and Cate: What changes has Agape had to make in response to the pandemic?
 
Ms. Sivewright: Our facility is closed down, so that completely changes everything that we do. We’re doing virtual tutoring with our students instead of the after-school program, but they’re not getting any of the enrichment that they usually get at Agape. We’re doing a lot to make sure that they have enough food; we’re doing translation services to make sure that families understand what’s happening, that the health information they’re getting is accurate and easy to understand.
One of the biggest values that Agape offers is that we have specialists who are inside the schools during the day, so they’re Agape employees, but they’re inside the public schools. What has changed about that is pretty significant: Instead of being able to be in the classroom, the specialists spend a lot of time tutoring one-on-one (online) with students, especially students who are in English as a Second Language. Communicating with teachers is different, we’re teaching our kids how to use computers while video chatting with them, so that’s been really different. 
 
For example, let’s say a first-grader doesn’t want to do his math homework. At Agape he could say, “I don’t have a pencil, so i can’t do it.” And you could say, “Ok, cool -- here’s a pencil. Let’s get started.” But with virtual tutoring, that bit works for, like, 10 minutes. So it’s difficult to know how well students are learning the material.
 
Luca and Cate: What are Agape’s greatest needs right now?
 
Ms. Sivewright: The number one need is financial assistance. Since a large number of our families lost their jobs or had their hours cut, we set up an emergency assistance fund; any money donated to that fund goes directly to support our families. So you can donate to help families pay the rent or utility bills or to help us buy Publix gift cards so families can use them to get food. We want to be as prepared as we can, because it’s difficult to know how long this will last or when people can go back to work, and they still have to pay their bills. For Agape, keeping our kids physically safe is number one, and ensuring their home stability is number two-- making sure our families don’t become homeless if they can’t pay their rent because they’ve lost a job. 
 
Luca and Cate: What can Lovett families do to help?
 
Ms. Sivewright: Access to food is really important; APS is dropping off groceries every week to the neighborhoods, and we’re having volunteers help with that, so if people want to volunteer they can help those efforts, but they need to bring their own masks and gloves. Also Publix gift cards are really helpful.
 
Also--and this is still in the works-- we’re making a Youtube Channel that we can share with students that will have pre-recorded lessons they can use. Storytime, where you record yourself reading a book to children, and pre-recorded lessons. 
 
Luca and Cate: Is there any further information you’d like for me to convey to Lovett students and their families?
 
Ms. Sivewright: A lot of gratitude. Thank you for all the Lovett community support. We miss you guys and all the volunteers and can’t wait to have you all back here at Agape! 

 
One way to support Agape is to purchase the children’s book John Taylor the Might Strong Sailor on Amazon. Written by Lovett student Conner Kanaly, all proceeds benefit Agape Youth and Family Center.
 
 
Middle School students from Mr. Posten’s 8th Grade Civic Leadership class help set up gifts at Agape’s Holiday Store in December.
 
 
Lovett Student Service Board Community Partner Interview: Furkids, Inc.

Lindy Benton and Eleanor Weyman are juniors and members of the Student Service Board. They talked with Samantha Shelton, CEO and Founder of Furkids, Inc., 

Lindy and Eleanor: What is Furkids’ mission?
 
Ms. Shelton: The Furkids mission is to rescue homeless animals, provide them with the best medical care and a nurturing environment while working to find them a forever home.
 
For the Lovett students, you guys have been so involved in what we are doing. Y’all have come out to the dog shelters and volunteered. Then, we had a group that came to our new headquarters before we really opened out there and helped us. In fact, Lovett students were the first kids on the property to help us clean up and cut down some bamboo. We bought 9 acres two years ago; it’s absolutely beautiful. We’ve moved our headquarters there, so our surgery team is there, and our veterinarians are there. Our cats are there for adoption, then our dogs are at the shelter 3 miles down the road. 

Lindy and Eleanor: How has the pandemic affected the people and animals you serve?
 
Ms. Shelton: This is a very difficult time, especially for non-profits, and for non-profits caring for animals, because we consider ourselves on the front lines. We are saving lives; these are sentient beings: cats and dogs. They have to be cared for and we can’t just stop. We’ve had to learn how to keep our staff and volunteers safe while we are showing up and working.  We’ve also had to figure out how to continue doing adoptions because most shelters in our state closed. FurKids is one of 2 shelters that stayed open for adoptions. We do that by appointment and we have done many great adoptions, so that’s the good news. 
 
Because the animal controls throughout the state closed for intakes, I am concerned about the stray animals out there in the community that do not have health right now. The animal control officers are only picking up injured animals. They’re not picking up other strays that they see. Most of our dogs come to us from animal control before they’re euthanized, and if those shelters are closed then we really have a challenging time getting to the animals that need help. So that is one of our main challenges right now.

In addition, we have lost a lot of revenue since March. In March we usually have our big fundraiser of the year and we raise over $150,000 toward our life-saving programs. That money provides medicine, food, and medical supplies for us to do surgeries, vaccines, and testing: everything that we need for the animals that we bring into our care. We had to cancel that party because of the pandemic. And then we had to close our 3 thrift stores. Our thrift stores provide 30% of our annual budget, so that provides a third of the money that we need to run our operation. We have had some big hits in the last 7 weeks, which has been a little scary. 

Lindy and Eleanor: What are Furkids’ greatest needs right now?
 
Ms. Shelton: We are a private, non-profit shelter so we rely heavily on donations to continue the work that we are doing. People can help by making individual contributions; any amount is appreciated and helpful. Also adopting, because we do have animals available for adoption, even though our dog number is the lowest we’ve ever seen. And volunteers - we need volunteers even now!

Lindy and Eleanor: What can Lovett families do to help?
 
Ms. Shelton:
  • We have 31 dogs in our program right now for adoption, and half of them are puppies. So if you are looking to adopt an adult dog, a puppy, a cat, or a kitten, we still are doing adoptions. We welcome the public to check out our website and look for a cat or dog to adopt.
  • We are still receiving donations at our thrift stores. It has been a great time in the last few weeks to clean out your house. It’s a great time to donate. Donate to our thrift stores, and when we open again, we will be able to sell those items to support our work. We receive everything except mattresses and pillows. Books, home decor, clothing, furniture, etc., we sell everything! The addresses of the thrift stores are on our website,furkids.org.
  • We have some merchandise for sale on our website. We have some pet beds from The Company Store that have been donated. They are really awesome, high-end, nice dog beds. We have t-shirts and other FurKids merchandise for sale.
  • Also, people can promote and share what we are doing to help share our story. 
  • There is an opportunity to volunteer on the property if people would like to come out and do some gardening. It’s absolutely beautiful. We have all of these water features, ponds, waterfalls, and coy fish. It is a really cool place where people can volunteer right now. We’ve been limiting the people we can have inside volunteering, but outside there are 9 acres. There is a lot to do on 9 acres!
Learn more about Furkids or make a donation here.
 
 

 Hopper, an English Sheepdog that Lovett Student Shannon Collins and family adopted through Furkids in March.

 
Lovett Middle School students gather around a pup at Furkids.
 
 
Lovett Student Service Board Community Partner Interview: CURE Childhood Cancer

Margaret Hare is a sophomore and member of the Student Service Board. She interviewed Mark Myers, Director of Communications at CURE Childhood Cancer.

Margaret: What is your organization’s mission?

Mr. Myers: CURE funds research that leads to safe and effective treatments for childhood cancer as well as supporting families who are going through the process. 

Margaret: How has the pandemic affected the people you serve?
 
Mr. Myers: Greatly. There are so many families in dire emergency financial straits. If you can imagine, childhood cancer treatment is already expensive. Hopefully families have good insurance, but it still becomes very expensive, especially when you have to consider commuting for treatment. Patients come from all over the state, and those treatments can be several times a week. So if you live three hours away and you have to drive to treatment two to three times a week, those bills can pile up.
 
A lot of families have either lost jobs or are not able to work if they are in the restaurant industry and that kind of thing. We are seeing some really dramatic financial need that we are trying to help them with. That is one of the ways we help families going through childhood cancer treatment: we help with their utility bills, gas bills, mortgage, etc. We work with the social workers at both the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta and Memorial Hospital in Savannah to help patients and families.
 
Margaret: What changes has CURE had to make in response to the pandemic?
 
Mr. Myers: Since there are cases of COVID-19 in the hospitals, families are not wanting to leave their rooms to go get food in the cafeteria and that kind of thing because all these children are immunocompromised during treatment and at risk for COVID-19.  So we are providing meals in the hospital two to four times a week. We are trying to get these meals delivered to the hospitals, which is a challenge itself. We have worked with several restaurant partners to deliver those meals which are taken upstairs by hospital employees. 
 
We also provide counseling for families because childhood cancer treatment can be very devastating emotionally, but that has all had to shift because of the pandemic. We have been working with our main counseling liaison here in Georgia, and they are providing counseling over the phone. They call it “telle-mental health.” We have also been providing hotel rooms for families that have to travel from other areas to be here. 
 
Margaret: What are CURE’s greatest needs right now?
 
Mr. Myers: Donors for the meals. We also deliver snack bags and toiletry bags to the hospitals because a lot of these families get stuck there.. They might have had an emergency and had to check in and do not have snacks or toiletries. 
Margaret: What can Lovett families do to help?
 
Mr. Myers: We would love for a group to put together toiletry bags or snack bags. We can get those to the families. We know that Lovett has always been a supporter of Lauren's Run, and a great partner in that. We are converting Lauren’s Run into a Lauren’s Run Virtual Weekend. We would love for there to be a big Lovett team in our first Lauren’s Run Virtual Weekend.
 
Margaret: Is there any further information you’d like for me to convey to Lovett students and their families?
 
Mr. Myers: We certainly appreciate Lovett’s partnership. It has been years and years with a great amount of support that Lovett has provided. You can find all the information for the Lauren’s Run Virtual Weekend at laurensrun.com. We would love to see a big Lovett showing for our virtual weekend!

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