I am amazed, in awe, and inspired by the way many nonprofit leaders – many of whom are women – are leading their organizations through the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. So much so, that I’ve decided to do a special series about Badass Nonprofit and Small Business Executive Women who are living in the trenches, working to keep their nonprofit running, and doing critical work to continue to serve individuals and families during this crisis. I’m curious about their work and the people they’re serving, their biggest concerns, and how they are taking care of themselves and those around them. So, I asked!

Chrystal Struben, President/CEO, AYS, Inc.

Chrystal Struben serves as President/CEO for AYS, Inc. She joined AYS in September 2014 in her role as President/CEO but has been a part of the AYS family as a parent since 2011. Chrystal has dedicated her 15+ year career and volunteer work to youth-and-family-serving organizations. When she’s not busy running a successful nonprofit, she can be found volunteering. Chrystal currently serves on the Great Places 2020 Education Committee and is a member of the Out of School Time Learning Advisory Board.

Q.  Who are you serving and how are you serving them during this crisis?

A.  AYS-At Your School is offering enrichment programming to children of essential workers at three locations: Broad Ripple High School, Christel House South Charter School, and iTown in Fishers. These locations are made possible through funding support by The Central Indiana COVID-19 Community Economic Relief C-Cerf Fund, as well as in-kind support through IPS, Christel House and iTown Church. Breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner are provided to students. This allows us to take one more thing off the lists for parents – meal-planning – while their kids are in our care.

The program is focused on Social Emotional Learning, E-Learning academic support and plenty of high engagement activities. Safety is a top priority. Students receive a health screening by a medical professional each day before entering the program. Student drop off occurs outside of the building. Youth spend their day in age-specific groups of 10 with one of our trained staff members who works with them to create a caring and fun environment where they can interact safely with their peers.

Q.  Have you added, changed, or deleted any services because of COVID-19?

Absolutely. I don’t know of any non-profit or company that has not had to adjust during this time.

For AYS, we operate 46 programs in school buildings across central Indiana – providing before-and-after school enrichment programming to youth pre-k to grade 6. With school closures due to COVID-19, all programs were abruptly ended. We were able to nimbly pivot to offer this needed service to essential workers. We are proud of our staff for stepping in to help ensure peace of mind for those on the front line in our community. Our staff are heroes too and we appreciate them!

We are doing our best to stay connected with families and with staff. We were previously not well-positioned to connect virtually with families aside from e-newsletters, but we are working with our team to find some solutions for that.    

Q.  What are your biggest concerns right now?

A.  We, like so many community-based organizations, are concerned about the health and safety of youth and families, including our own staff. We want to ensure the families we serve are connected and engaged during this time.

Another big concern is what Summer Day camp might look like for youth. We have many who are already signed up for camp and we are working through how best to serve them in light of the pandemic. We are in conversations with our school district and other community partners and hope to have announcements soon. We know families count on AYS for fun and learning during the summer. We also anticipate the need for our enriching, affordable camp experiences will increase due to our focus on remediation of learning loss.

And, our staff is top of mind. We had to furlough more than 100 employees because we were unable to provide them meaningful work during this time. We are grateful that there are extended public resources available to them in the form of increased unemployment benefits, including our ability to continue to pay medical benefits for those on furlough. We look forward to bringing staff back for summer programming soon (though there are still many moving parts to finalizing programming and plans) and to welcoming a full workforce back for the 20/21 school year. Families need quality care for their kids regardless of the long-term adjustments our culture will need to make. We are already working through program planning scenarios to ensure the health and safety of our youth and families as we all adjust to what many are framing as a “new normal” post COVID-19.

Q  How are you taking care of yourself, your staff, and your clients?

A. For me,  I am taking a lot of walks and practicing meditation. I have also turned to my yoga mat and have been focusing my creative energies to building a home practice for myself. I invested in Sonos speakers last year. With those and Spotify, I have a great online library for music. Once I hit my mat, I can turn off my brain a bit and just lose myself for a while in a form of exercise and meditation that I have enjoyed for over 20 years now.  

My son, Carter, likes to stay active, so we have been spending some time in the backyard at our basketball hoop. His free-throw shot is pretty flawless these days; mine needs a lot of work!  I love the time with him, and it gives us a healthy break from work and E-learning. I also am keeping myself busy outside of work with home projects – mainly organizing my kitchen, office and closets.

My mom and former mother-in-law both live alone. We are used to spending a lot of time together, especially this time of year when baseball season would normally have us at the diamond every weekend.  This has been particularly hard on them. Carter and I do our best to check in on them and to spend “socially distant” time together. I am grateful to have them, as well as an amazing group of friends in our lives. One of the gifts from COVID-19 is more meaningful connection with friends and family. I have been really impressed with how people are finding ways to be there for one another.

As for our staff and the families we serve, we are staying connected through e-communications. We have really ramped up those efforts with more virtual opportunities over the past several weeks. The best thing for our staff – and many of the kids we serve – is a connection to each other.

Q.  What is your biggest need right now and how can people support your organization?

A.  We have two big needs right now:

  1. Funds to support access to services, cleaning supplies, masks for youth and adults; and
  2. Help in spreading the word about our services. 

We don’t want to turn any family down due to cost and the economic impact of COVID-19. Donations go directly to offset working or student parents’ fees for service so they can advance their careers and lot in life, knowing their children are not only safe but participating in programing that will help them go further too.

AYS-At Your School has a lot of information about our Pop-Up Locations on our website and on all social media platforms. Please help us connect with essential workers who need care. Of course, we can always use professional design, printing, writing, PR, and marketing help – especially now.  If there are professionals looking to give back in this manner, we would love to talk with them.

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