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 Nonprofit and Small Business Executive Women who are living in the trenches, working to keep their nonprofits and businesses 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!

Theresa Rhodes, Executive Director, Buckingham Foundation

Theresa has spent her career serving the public in her roles working for former Mayor Steven Goldsmith and president of the Lacy Leadership Association. Early in her career Theresa was taught valuable lessons that are rooted into her work today: integrity, a commitment to a greater good, and an unflinching drive to do the right thing. When Theresa joined Buckingham Foundation in 2011, she took its corporate philanthropy to the next level. Under her leadership, Buckingham Foundation has donated $2.5 million to more than 600 nonprofit and civic organizations since its inception in 2006. Theresa is a passionate advocate and a creative problem solver who is motivated by accomplishing tasks and accepting the next challenge. Read how she’s taking on the challenge of COVID-19 and committing the company’s resources for good.

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

A.  Buckingham Foundation has a commitment to lead with care, compassion, and integrity, and we have launched our Buckingham CARES campaign during this challenging time. Internally, we have implemented our Angel Fund, which assists our Buckingham team members with financial grants and donations of paid time off needed due to emergency and hardship circumstances. We are regularly communicating with our employees to ensure everyone is aware of the Angel Fund and knows how to access this confidential, philanthropic-based resource if needed. Externally, we are serving our neighbors in need and giving back in our communities where we have a significant Buckingham presence.   

Buckingham Foundation is partnering with The Alexander Hotel to serve as a satellite kitchen for Second Helpings. We are currently preparing, packaging, and delivering more than 1,500 meals per week to senior citizens, families, and children. We are preparing to increase those numbers in the coming weeks. Additionally, we are providing 100+ meals, weekly, to families of first responders and essential workers through our partnership with downtown Indianapolis YMCA sites, who are providing these families daycare services. We also just expanded our community outreach efforts, again in partnership with The Alexander, to provide complimentary hotel rooms for dedicated health care workers, including doctors, nurses, and first responders who are unable to return to their homes at the end of their shifts. Buckingham Foundation is covering the cost of these hotel stays, which include free parking and a grab and go breakfast, through at least the end of April.  

We launched similar programs in Nashville, TN, where we will be offering complimentary hotel rooms to health care workers at The Aertson Hotel and preparing meals for those in need through a partnership with the Henley Nashville restaurant and the Nashville Food Project. 

We are supporting our local arts community with contributions to the Indy Arts & Culture COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund and through discussions with our friends at Big Car Collaborative on how we can be a resource. We have increased our financial support for Gleaners Food Bank, to help them expand their Family Meal Box program, and we are providing things like cases of toilet paper and grocery gift cards to several of our grantees who are working with our most vulnerable populations. 

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

A.  We have accelerated our grant giving as outlined above and will continue to be proactive in identifying and implementing projects that support our communities in significant, hands-on ways. We are continuing to have conversations with a wide variety of nonprofit organizations regarding their needs and priorities to determine where we can help. 

Q.  What are your biggest concerns right now?  

A.  I am a (somewhat) recovering control freak, and I don’t do well with the unknown! Adjusting to our new normal has required a great deal of patience and flexibility, and to some extent, learning to go with the flow. I am still focused on operating in a strategic and proactive way but am also able to pivot as needed and take advantage of opportunities as they develop. Fortunately, we have a very nimble and entrepreneurial culture and mindset at Buckingham, so the entire team is right there with me as we figure out how we can increase our focus on serving others during this pandemic. 

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

A.  Professionally, we are all staying connected through technology that allows us to have very productive planning meetings and team discussions, and the occasional virtual happy hour! Personally, I am starting each day by focusing on the “silver linings” in my life right now. Our family is healthy and food secure, my daughter is home from med school and is doing a lot of fantastic cooking, therapeutic massages, and closet organization. I take a long walk every day in between online learning sessions. I have also discovered the joy of Zoom family gatherings and am embracing deep breathing and yoga stretches in between calls and meetings. We start each day with a stand-up family meeting to review daily goals, and I end each day with prayers and gratitude for my blessings, which helps me keep things in perspective.

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

A.  I would ask people to support their community. Donate to your favorite nonprofit.  Find a cause you can get behind and research how you can help. Stay home. Take care of your mental health and emotional well-being. Check in on your friends and family via technology. And call your Mom!

Q.  What are you reading, watching, listening to, or doing to get through this? 

A. I am an avid reader and enjoy thrillers and mysteries (I should have been a detective). With libraries and bookstores closed, I have discovered podcasts, E-books, and audio books. Emma, my daughter and life coach, provides me with daily self-improvement tips and suggestions. We are diligently re-watching all episodes of The Office and we just finished Tiger King on Netflix. I am desperately searching for ways I can work “Hey, all you cool cats and kittens” into upcoming team meetings!

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