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Combatting COVID-19 Through Community Collaboration

headshot of Christine Achre

Every person, family and business is affected today by COVID-19. Families with unstable housing feel the effects even more severely. At Primo Center, we feel the pandemic’s impact throughout the organization and on the lives of the children and families we serve. The pandemic has intensified our clients’ challenges and created new obstacles for us. Nonetheless, our number one priority is maintaining the safety and health of our clients, staff and volunteers as we continue to adapt our programming to meet their needs. It’s a challenging time, but I’m encouraged by the rallying support of our community partners, our supporters and the Chicago community. I know we’ll get through this working together.

On March 16, five days before Governor Pritzker made the statewide stay-at-home order, Primo Center’s team began our own “stay-at-home” protocol, by restricting building entry for volunteers and community partners and requesting that clients limit their time outside. We deployed medical-grade hand sanitizers around the four interim housing facilities and posted CDC-approved handwashing techniques around the buildings. We also began checking the temperature of everyone entering and are grateful to share that everyone is safe and healthy.

Much of our work involves earning the trust of our clients. That trust doesn’t come easily as many children and their families have experienced severe trauma before coming to Primo Center. We build trust by creating a therapeutic environment that promotes healing and consistency.

I am extremely proud of our staff for adapting quickly to the new “normal” and maintaining a sense of calm and dedication for our clients. While some staff can work remotely, our house managers, program and site directors must put in extra time and be there to support our clients in-person. Case managers, who are working from home, maintain their scheduled meetings with clients through phone calls to ensure consistency throughout this crisis.

As part of Primo Center’s trauma-informed care approach, we provide mental health services for our clients to aid in their healing process and it’s now more important than ever that they have this access. Our in-house psychiatrist, Dr. Bhaskar Sripada, is maintaining consistency by holding virtual sessions with clients during their normally-scheduled and future appointments.

In a time where anxiety is heightened, I’m grateful for technology that keeps us connected and organizations that help each of us maintain our mental health. For example, I’m an avid spinner and was thrilled when Cycle Bar Oak Park/River Forest was loaning bikes during the quarantine. Being able to exercise helps me be a better leader and support my team.

We strive to build a community at Primo Center, which includes our clients, staff, volunteers and many community partners that help us with programming, health care, product donations and more. And we couldn’t do it without our community, who keeps showing up for us with their support. We’re truly grateful for the individuals and organizations who’ve donated cleaning supplies, art supplies, food, internet hotspots and children’s activities to help us get through this time.

With Chicago Public Schools closed and the stay-at-home order, there is an increased need for food and meals for our center families. In the spirit of community supporting community, a gracious family foundation donated $10,000 to purchase meals from local restaurants for the residents and staff across our four interim housing facilities.

This generosity inspires me to look at this crisis with optimism. We don’t know when this will end and there are many unforeseen challenges ahead, and we need our community’s support to forge ahead. We’re running low on our medical-grade hand sanitizer and the market price is astronomical; we need additional support to continue providing food and meals for our families, as well as activities for the children; we’re short on computers and laptops for our school-aged children to complete their schoolwork; and despite all of those challenges, I am optimistic.

The future seems daunting, but I see the Chicago community rallying together to help support the most vulnerable. We will get through this, together.

Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date with Primo Center and consider making a donation today to support our COVID-19 response efforts. Thank you for your continued support.

I wish you and your family safety and good health.

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