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!

Elyssa Campodonico-Barr, President & CEO, Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis

Elyssa’s focused passion lies in the equality and empowerment of women and girls. Prior to joining Girls Inc., she served as the Chief of Staff of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for the State of Indiana and practiced as an attorney for Indiana University with a specialization in Title IX litigation. Elyssa is active in the community. She proudly sits on the Indy Maven Editorial Board, the eImagine Corporate Advisory Board, the NBA All-Star 2021 Community Engagement Committee, and the Indianapolis Public School Superintendent’s Parent & Community Advisory Council. For Elyssa, there is nothing more energizing, more impactful, than being an inspiration provider and an intermediary to strong, smart, and bold girls.

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

A.  Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis serves thousands of girls in the Indianapolis area, with a programmatic presence in over 60 schools in every district in the city. Demographically, we serve girls ages 6-18 years old; roughly 70% of the girls we serve qualify for free and reduced lunches given their socioeconomic status; and, the majority of Girls Inc. girls are girls of color.

The mission of Girls Inc. is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. Girls Inc. recognizes that girls still face significant challenges in our society, and the organization meets these challenges by helping girls explore and celebrate their strengths, their voices, who they are today, and who they will become. Girls Inc. equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

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

A.  Yes. The majority of our programming is conducted at school and partner sites. Because of social distancing and the safety of our girls, volunteers, staff, and constituents, we are unable to execute on our in-person programming. We are shifting as much as possible to a virtual model. Both of our summer camps are still on course to occur in-person in June, but our staff is making contingency plans on our current scheduling in the event the dates are pushed back.

During the pandemic we are taking a two-pronged approach at serving girls virtually:

  1. We have provided electronic resources to girls in our high-impact programs in order to stay in touch with them and their guardians during this stressful time. These are different interactive touch points depending on the program. For our high school girls and leadership programming, we are checking in on them as mentors and ensuring they are academically on-track with their e-learning and college applications. Because many of our programs take place in a group-setting given the importance of girl-to-girl bonding, we are also conducting virtual group meetings through Zoom. More than anything, we are there as a safe resource for girls to talk about what they are facing and how we can cope together given the heavy toll on mental and physical health this crisis is having on girls.
  2. For the girls we are unable to reach one-on-one, we created social-emotional learning and Girls Inc. programming on our website and social channels. These resources are mission-centered activities for girls, parents, and guardians to use as they please. We will have a new activity or lesson every day while our girls are home from school. We believe now, potentially more than ever, girls need the social-emotional outlet and programming that Girls Inc. provides. (check out the resources page here)

Q.  What are your biggest concerns right now?

A.  Our biggest concerns are first and foremost with the girls we serve. The girls who rely on our resources come from some of the most vulnerable demographics – many face poverty and other forms of injustice. Schools, out-of-school-time programs, and community centers are at the forefront of keeping these girls safe and helping them thrive. While the current closing of these key community gathering places is clearly very necessary in the face of the pandemic, it has also forced a near-halt to Girls Inc. in-person programming. Without these partner sites, we have very little ability to be there for girls whose situation is already fragile.

From an organizational standpoint, I am extremely concerned about the sustainability of our organization, our revenue, and how this operational shift will impact our organization for months and potentially years after this is over. I am concerned for the health and well-being of our staff and ensuring we retain them through this crisis.

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

A.  This is such an odd time, and for me, it’s all about having some semblance of a routine and a healthy mind platter: staying mission-focused, eating well and right, moving, meditating, interacting with my staff, friends and family virtually, etc. All of the tenants of health that we teach our girls. For our staff, interacting with each other and talking through this new phase is important. Tools that let us see each other and the girls have been very helpful. I think we’ve grown stronger and closer because of this crisis and we have a stronger trust that is necessary to power through this pandemic. For our girls, we are checking in via phone calls and virtually as much as we can. They are our primary concern right now.

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

A.  Our biggest need is general operating support to sustain our excellent staff and proven programming during what we hope is only a brief hiatus. Keeping these resources strong will position us, once the current crisis is over, to continue serving the girls who are our communities’ and nation’s future. People can donate on our website. Beyond monetary support, we always need help spreading the word about the important work that we do with girls in our community. Please follow us and share our messages on our social channels using the handle @girlsincindy (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). Also, please do your part to support girls in your life and your community by being a mentor and a guiding light on their journey to adulthood. This is a community and multifaceted effort to ensure we have strong, smart, and bold young women who are poised to be the next great leaders of our community.

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

A.  I’m reading novels to distract me from my frequent news consumption. I’m a notorious Podcaster. Right now, I am catching up on the 1619 Podcast episodes and my usuals: This American Life, Radiolab, and How I Built This. Because we are all at home, I am taking as many walks around my neighborhood as possible, and that seems to help lend clarity and calm to this current world we are all living in.

I am spending a lot of time checking in on my family and loved ones, mainly my sister, JJ. We are as close as sisters can be – she is my best friend and is a physician at Eskenazi Health. We live 12 houses down from each other (by design), and we saw each other almost every day pre COVID-19. I can’t see her right now because of the virus so we’re using walkie talkies to communicate. I know we could use our phones, but for some reason this adds a little humor to a bleak situation for our first responders.  

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