Students see nonprofits persevere through struggles of the pandemic

A poll from the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits found over half of respondents are projecting losses between 10-50%

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant change for many nonprofits across Arizona, including closures, layoffs and reduced wages. 

Some students at ASU have seen the coronavirus take a toll on the nonprofits they work for yet have also witnessed resiliency within them.

TheaterWorks, a Peoria nonprofit that provides full seasons of youth theater, puppet theater, youth educational camps and programs for senior citizens, is among those that have shown the strength and creativity to persevere despite challenges presented by the pandemic. 

The organization has not come through the pandemic unscathed, according to its managing director, Cate Hinkle. 

Before the pandemic, TheaterWorks had 17 staff members and hosted 20 productions a year for 50,000 attendees, Hinkle said. The company now has six staff members and is hosting two productions for a fraction of the attendees. Due to decreased donations and canceled shows, TheaterWorks is operating on a third of its typical budget, Hinkle said. 

These losses are not uncommon among other nonprofits in the state, according to a poll of over 200 Arizona nonprofits conducted by the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits. 

According to the Alliance's report, over 41% of respondents have furloughed employees, cut staff hours and reduced employee pay. The report said the sectors of health and human services, arts and culture and education saw the most job losses.

Hinkle said relief funding played a large role in ensuring TheaterWorks' survival.

However, without additional Paycheck Protection Program loans or COVID-related emergency funding grants, just under 61% of respondents to the poll are projecting net operating losses between 10-50%.

Nearly 23% of the poll's respondents said they would not have to furlough or lay off additional employees if there were another round of PPP loans.

Hahnna Christianson, a senior studying musical theater, collects "confession cards" from the audience during TheaterWorks' "Alice in Wonderland" production. She said, “On so many cards, people write down that they love to escape to wonderland and wish they could stay there forever.”

With the stress of the pandemic and the upcoming presidential election, Hinkle and Christianson expressed their gratitude for providing their community with an escape from reality, despite the challenges TheaterWorks has faced.

“Those connections are really what we’re missing right now, and the arts and those connections would be what would typically get people through a crisis," Hinkle said. “With the lack of those options, that has really exacerbated the void we’re seeing right now.”

Unlike other nonprofits across the U.S., one founded by an ASU student called ShelterShare has thrived during the pandemic. 

Anthony Valencia, a senior studying organizational leadership, launched ShelterShare in January 2020 — just months before coronavirus closures went into effect.

Valencia said ShelterShare connects people with homeless and domestic violence shelters online where donors can pay for food and other necessities at the shelters.

As coronavirus began to cause layoffs and furloughs, homeless shelters became overwhelmed, and there was a greater need for donations from individuals and nonprofits like ShelterShare, Valencia said. 

“We really rallied,” Valencia said. “People were at home, they wanted to help, they didn’t know how, and our platform was one of the few mechanisms — and still is to this day.”

ShelterShare has now expanded to assist communities across the country in states like California, Washington and New York. Valencia said the nonprofit doubled its number of volunteers since the beginning of the pandemic and went from partnering with 14 shelters to about 40 in California alone.

“I’m still processing it,” Valencia said while explaining his reaction to ShelterShare’s success. “It feels great, but I am still in work mode, still in volunteer mode, and I’m really doing my best to continue to operate in the cities we currently deliver to and connect.”


Reach the reporter at kkwilso5@asu.edu and follow @kaceywilson_ on Twitter. 

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