WINCHESTER – The pandemic has been difficult for nonprofits, including NW Works, which for more than 50 years has worked to help people with disabilities find jobs.
In January, three customers died from COVID.
“When you lose people who have been with our organization for over 20 years, it’s tough on morale, and it’s tough on other clients because they know them,” said Debera Taylor, CEO of NW Works.
The association also had to close its Firefly Cafe and Bakery at 3035 Valley Ave., which it used to train and employ developmentally challenged adults.
NW Works currently helps 40 people, around 140 fewer clients than it serves on average.
Some customers are afraid to come back and participate in the organization’s programs because of COVID.
“If you think of a normal person affected by COVID, then you add this disability component on top of that, in some cases some don’t understand and some who understand are afraid,” Taylor said.
Still, it’s heartwarming to see some clients keen to return to some form of normalcy at NW Works, Taylor added.
“They want to return to meaningful work and they want to be out of their confinement again, if you will, and in a safe space where they know they are going to be taken care of,” she said.
Perhaps things are improving for the nonprofit.
Recently, NW Works was able to work with the Lord Fairfax Health District to organize a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at its Shawnee Drive office in Winchester for its staff and clients who wish to be vaccinated.
And starting March 15, clients who live at Shenandoah Valley Community Residences Inc. will begin participating in the Day Support Services Program, which helps clients stay active through in-person activities.
The day program was closed for in-person services last year for security reasons. Returning clients will not be required to be vaccinated, but they should wear a mask and wash their hands frequently and stay 6 feet apart.
NW Works staff have also always been able to provide support to people working in the community, for example through professional coaching. Some customers may have worked at Trex Company as well as at Kohl’s distribution center.
Although NW Works revenue has declined 26% since the pandemic, Taylor said the nonprofit has received grants and a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program that helps offset financial losses. NW Works also recently received COVID support payments from the Department of Medicaid Assistance.
“We’re in a comfortable position right now for the next fiscal year,” Taylor said.
NW Works is also creative in its fundraising efforts. Brady Smith, the organization’s director of strategic partnership, embarked on a 115-mile hike this week along the Appalachian Trail. He hikes to raise funds for NW Works, but also to shed light on the barriers people, especially people with disabilities, face on a daily basis.
“Everyone has a barrier,” he said, adding that his job is to support people with disabilities by providing them with the tools and resources they need to break down barriers.
Smith hopes to raise $ 10,000 for NW Works. As of Tuesday, he had already raised $ 4,000. Smith also plans to donate his paid time off for the weeklong hike, he said.
Money raised from his hike will help provide transportation or personal protective equipment for clients. It will also serve to fully equip staff with new educational materials while ensuring that their technological needs are up to date.
Essentially, it helps fill small gaps that grants may not be able to fill.
Overall, Brady is hoping his long journey for NW Works will start at least one conversation about barriers and the rights of people with disabilities.
“If you have a heart for the disability community, there are ways you can always serve, whether it’s donating time or money or just advocating in general, this is it,” said Smith.
To donate to Smith’s fundraiser for NW Works, visit https://nwworks.networkforgood.com/events/26348-hiking-to-overcome-obstacles