Our newest series, A United Thread, highlights the importance of pulling together to collectively serve our community through an unprecedented time. In each segment, we feature an organization awarded COVID-19 grant money through United Way of Central Carolinas.


As a result of the coronavirus crisis, our community’s most critical nonprofits are feeling the strain as they experience an increased demand for services while simultaneously navigating decreased financial resources. Within multiple counties across the Charlotte region, United Way of Central Carolinas established COVID-19 response funds in partnership with Foundation For The Carolinas, and with the support of corporations, local government and others to assist local nonprofits serving on the front lines.


In this segment, we connect with Spencer Swain, executive director of Families First in Cabarrus County, to learn how the organization is navigating the pandemic.



How has COVID-19 impacted Families First in Cabarrus County?


Swain: We initially faced the same trauma every family faced. Most core services and revenues were completely disrupted. Because we work with a lot of immigrant families, the pandemic has not been felt equitably by our families or even staff. Our most vulnerable children are suffering trauma and potential long-term achievement consequences – so we had to transform deliverables overnight.


One of the biggest challenges for our board is budgeting three-, six- and 12-month scenarios as 50 percent of revenues were lost. We increased meetings from monthly to every two weeks and are doing best, worst and most likely case scenarios with everything changing so fast.



How has the organization adapted the way it delivers on its mission during the pandemic?


Swain: Fortunately delivering remotely was an easy transition with current software; it was meeting new needs that was challenging at first. Families First spent the first few weeks of the pandemic calling and listening to parents and caregivers, where we received critical information to adapt services. Quickly we realized their concerns aligned with experts regarding the fear of lifelong achievement gaps and health struggles without a path of relief, recovery and sustainable change.


Our educators quickly adapted to remote learning and our executive staff began the strategic process of how to meet the changed needs and the timing of these needs. We are taking on new initiatives for immediate relief and sustained recovery.


Our Critical Learning Recovery project provides us capacity to deliver learning activities to up to 100 immigrant families and in doing so, put together a summer preschool. This is for our families whose children missed intervention therapies since March 15 and those deemed at highest risk.


Our Celebrating Families program participants have received remote learning named Front Porch Recovery, where we’ve been able to deliver basic needs and family engagement activities, as well as check on the children and decrease chances of child abuse or neglect or substance abuse.


Our Ready4k Core and Trauma services began for up to 750 families and up to three children per family, from birth to eight years of age. This program will follow every family we enroll until their children are eight years old.



How is Families First using the grant money it received through the COVID-19 Response Fund?


Swain: Funding from the Cabarrus County Community Foundation (a regional affiliate of Foundation For The Carolinas) in collaboration with United Way has enabled many families to truly feel our mission to nurture, educate and strengthen them for generations to flourish.


We’ve made over 100 deliveries of basic needs and learning items to create exceptional learning environments at home. And in just a month, more than 200 families were enrolled in Ready4k.



What’s one personal testimonial you can share about the organization’s impact in the community?


Swain: One woman was so happy for her kids to access preschool, and pre-COVID she started ESL classes, and her husband started a job. This after they were recently forced to leave their South American home and family on asylum after many threats and their house being burned down during civil unrest.


She is very thankful to be here and now is a candidate to be on our board as a parent liaison. She trusts Families First and we honor her experience.



Outside of COVID-19, what is something people should know about Family First’s partnership with United Way?


Swain: We are more deeply aware of United Way’s gifts and strengths as a result of COVID-19. Many nonprofits went from stable to unstable quickly with revenues plummeting. What we all witnessed was United Way quickly organizing and deploying funds to stabilize nonprofits and directly impact the families and children they serve.


What people may not know is how approachable, open-minded and honest United Way is when a nonprofit is facing challenges or expanding its vision. So it’s more than relief funds—we have come to know United Way as first in the community to take a stand on the big issues. This is not the first time and won’t be the last. Ultimately, improving deliverables and thinking boldly is not only encouraged, it is modeled by United Way’s leadership and its team.


Learn more about United Way’s COVID-19 response efforts here.