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!

Colleen Renie, Executive Director, The Village of Merici Inc.

Colleen Renie is the Executive Director of The Village of Merici Inc., – an organization that provides residential supported living and community integration services to individuals with developmental disabilities. Colleen and her team work to foster independence development and assure purpose-filled lives for adults with developmental disabilities.

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

A. The Village of Merici provides residential and community support to adults with intellectual, developmental and/or physical disabilities in Indianapolis. We continue to provide in-person services as much as possible. However, due to COVID-19 we transitioned to telemedicine/telehealth practices with individuals who can benefit from verbal and virtual support to minimize the risk of infection.

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

A. We have some individuals who are fearful of having someone visit their home or apartment, but we have been helping by doing their grocery shopping and picking up their medicine. We have switched many to telehealth services. We do weekly check-ins with those who not wanting direct services to ensure they are staying healthy and safe. Fortunately, in the past two years we have converted our operations to HIPAA compliance cloud-based systems so our coaches and administrative staff can work remotely.

Q. What are your biggest concerns right now?

A.  Keeping everyone healthy and safe. We have a few adults with disabilities who work in grocery stores and we are concerned as they continue to work. We are trying to make sure they follow the CDC guidelines for handwashing and disinfecting their homes or apartments. The majority of the people we support have been furloughed from work due to closures or have (hopefully) temporarily been laid off. Since most of them receive disability payments the loss of income from not working is impacting their ability to purchase food and basic needs.

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

A. We have personal protection equipment for staff and the people we work with – masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and cleaners. We have visitor restrictions to the Merici Village Apartments (where 23 individuals live) and our offices. We have developed guidelines for isolation and quarantine, if needed.

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

A. Our biggest need is funding and gift cards for the people we serve who have lost income. Also, we have orders for more disinfectant wipes, but they are difficult to find. We are also making activity packs for the adults with disabilities to alleviate some of the boredom and loneliness of following the stay-at-home orders. Many of the individuals we serve cannot read well, so we’re always trying to find things like adult coloring books.

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

A. Some days I feel like I’m sitting at my computer on webinars or on conference calls all day. I listen to the CDC and Indiana State Board of Health updates. Through this, we have had twice weekly updates with FSSA/BDDS (Bureau of Developmental Disability Services) and our provider support organization. Personally, I am doing my best to find time to get outside for regular walks and sunshine.