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McKenzie Robinson | SBJ

A Conversation With ... Vickie Dudley

Executive Director, Isabel’s House

Posted online

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Isabel’s House. What community needs do you fill?
One thing that I like to think about is a child that had a normal, healthy childhood and what their childhood was like. I remember my childhood growing up and going to the lake with the family and playing catch in the backyard with my dad. And then I think about the kids that we have at the house and what their childhoods are like. They spend months at a time sleeping in the backseat of a car and don’t know, from one day to the next, where their next meal is going to come from. They are one crisis away from being without parents or being without a roof over their head. I worked at the Child Advocacy Center in Joplin for seven years. I saw that end all the time, families that didn’t make it through the crisis and the end result of what happened with the kids. To be on the front end of that crisis management situation and for our community to recognize the benefit of a place like Isabel’s House is huge. Because of staffing situations, we’ve not been able to be at full capacity in the house. That’s a major goal moving toward the summer is to be able to get back to full staff. That’s 20 children in the house. We’re staffed for eight to 12 right now. Referrals from Children’s Division are at the top of our list for priority intakes. The pandemic has really increased their caseload. On a regular basis, they’re looking for emergency or crisis placement for kids, and so we fill that gap often. Our next highest referral source is the hospitals, families that are having mental health crises or need to have medical procedures done and don’t have anywhere for the kids to go. Most individuals don’t have a family support structure.

Many industries have increased wages to attract employees amid the labor shortage. Is that a challenge for nonprofits, and how has Isabel’s House responded to those pressures?
Our base wage when all of this started was $11.10 an hour. When we were having all of the challenges getting employees and the hospitals increased to $15, Amazon increased to $15, we had to increase to $15 just because we were competing for the same pool of co-workers. When you raise your entry level positions to $15, then you’ve got other folks with professional degrees at $17. So, now we’re dealing with that imbalance in our salary structure that we’re going to have to make some adjustments to with the new budget year. It’s an employee’s market and if they can get other opportunities somewhere else for better hours, better pay, better benefits, then nonprofits are going to be lower on the list of priorities because it’s harder for us to compete, especially benefit wise. [Last year,] all current employees had to redo their background checks and do checks on any new hires. The state hired two people to review all of those background checks for the whole state. Here we are in the middle of hiring challenges and then we have this extra hoop to jump through. We had folks that applied for background checks in October that we still don’t have back. What do people do that are waiting to get hired? They go somewhere else. They finally got a workaround in place Dec. 1 and extended the [background] deadline until the end of March, but all of those people that we hired had already gone and found other jobs. We got really short staffed during that time period.

Nonprofits that relied on in-person fundraisers had to shift during the pandemic. How has your strategy for fundraising changed?
Last year our signature event, Hooray for Hollywood, which is with the Oscars, we did virtually. We met about 50% of our goal. Then our second signature event is the Summer Party and that’s a live event in an outdoor venue. That was in the middle of the second peak that hit in July and August, so we did that event all virtual and, again, about a 50% return on that event. What has really saved us is the reputation that we have in the community. We’re still here, we’re still open and we’re still serving kids and families during a really difficult time. The individual and the corporate donations, without any strings attached, without any fundraiser attached to them, have continued to come in. Springfield is a very, very giving and gracious community. Our doors would not be open right now if that wasn’t the case. Our Hooray for Hollywood for 2022 is scheduled for March 27. Who knows what’s going to happen with this next round of COVID, but we’re still planning for that to be a live event.

Vickie Dudley can be reached at vickied@isabelshouse.org.

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