Guidelines imposed because of COVID-19 have altered how people work, socialize and participate in recreational activities. Stay home orders, social distancing and restrictions on group gatherings have also changed how people engage in service organizations and volunteer activities. This series in the Hermiston Herald highlights how area service clubs and groups have responded to the pandemic.
The familiar murmur that precedes the exuberant sound of someone calling out “bingo” has been quieted for the past 36 weeks at games sponsored by The Arc Umatilla County. The nonprofit organization was forced to cancel its ongoing fundraiser with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jan Schroth, outgoing The Arc president, said the group’s mission is to advocate for the rights and full participation of all children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“Together with our network of members, we improve systems of supports and services; connect families; inspire communities and influence public policy,” the rest of the mission statement reads.
Schroth said The Arc Umatilla County typically serves between 200-300 people and families throughout the year. The global pandemic, she said, caused all fundraising and programs with the local organization to come to a screeching halt.
The Arc’s annual Summer Recreation and Inclusion Program was among the coronavirus casualties this year. The free two-week event, Schroth said, is offered during summer vacation to families who have school-aged children.
“We are not having any of our regular activities that people have come to enjoy, like dances and parties,” she said. “We have not been able to offer any trainings.”
In addition to the weekly bingo games, which began in November 1977, The Arc hasn’t been able to book the use of its West Orchard Avenue building. Revenue from rental fees, Schroth said, is how the organization covers costs associated with maintaining the building.
General membership meetings, Schroth said, haven’t been held since the onset of restrictions on in-person gatherings. And she said it hasn’t been practical to hold them online because many of the members don’t have access to computers or the internet.
After a delay of five months, treasurer Kristi Smalley said The Arc was finally able to hold its annual meeting. Attendance at the Nov. 10 gathering was sparse, yet productive, she said. Despite measures to reduce expenditures, Schroth shared that the group has seen a net loss of more than $12,000. By tapping into its financial reserves, Smalley and Schroth said they should be able to meet expenses for at least the next few months.
The annual meeting included the installation of officers and directors, as well as discussing what programs are resuming. Given the sometimes fluid parameters regarding limitations on public gatherings, people are encouraged to check with The Arc for up-to-date information. Less than 20 hours after announcing plans for an upcoming The Arc Activity Night, the event was canceled due to Gov. Kate Brown’s Nov. 13 announcement of a two-week “coronavirus freeze.”
Schroth, however, is optimistic about The Arc’s future. Looking ahead, she said the board hopes to resume larger in-person activities.
“The people that come to our activities miss the opportunity to visit with each other,” Schroth said.
Also, she acknowledges that the lack of funding has been hard. Schroth is a bit concerned with the higher utility bills that come with the winter weather. While they don’t know the timeline, she said the board is committed to resuming its bingo games when it’s deemed safe.
“The Arc has been in Umatilla County since 1967 and we will continue to be here and hopefully stronger as we navigate this new challenge,” Schroth said.