During quiet moments, Methodist Children’s Home Society CEO Kevin Roach thinks about the three women who founded the agency in 1917 and what was on their minds as they figured out how to care for the children they took in and their staff.
The Redford Township-based nonprofit opened its doors during the last major global pandemic, the Spanish Flu, to provide a home for children orphaned when their parents succumbed to the illness.
“It’s humbling to be here 100 years later, haunted by another global pandemic,” Roach said.
“I stand on their shoulders … (and) feel this incredible responsibility to make sure that 100 years from now, this agency is still taking care of children and families that need us.”
During the first eight months of the pandemic, Methodist Children’s Home prevented major outbreaks among the children living on its campus and its staff, ensured children and families on campus and in the community could continue to connect and receive therapy and took care of its staff to make sure their needs were met and they could care for others.
It went even further, taking in children other agencies couldn’t care for and offering space on its campus for other child welfare agencies should they need to quarantine children in their care. And when its diverse staff looked to management for answers on how it would respond to calls for racial justice amid the protests that followed George Floyd’s death, it began taking practical steps to do just that.
It also instituted a minimum wage of $15 per hour for its caregivers and other essential employees.
For all of those reasons, and more, Methodist Children’s Home Society is Crain’s Best-Managed Nonprofit for 2020 with revenue of more than $3 million.
Caring for staff
Methodist Children’s Home had to first care for its 160 employees if it was to look out for the children in its care and youth and families in the community, Roach said.
“It’s that notion that if you take care of the caregivers, the rest will take care of itself,” he said.
Through town hall meetings and smaller support groups, employees were able to share losses they were grieving, whether the loss of routine, security and/or a sense of the future, or the loss of a loved one, Roach said. “That’s a really heavy thing if not processed and you don’t have that support system in place.”
Those with young children — a majority of the nonprofit’s staff — had the same concerns most parents faced and continue to face about child care, their children getting educated and their employer understanding the need for flexibility. To help parents, Methodist Children’s Home arranged onsite child care, implemented flexible work policies, equipped those working from home and established an employee assistance fund.
Roach began sending daily (and sometimes twice daily) memos to employees to share the conversations he was having with health and human services leaders and elected leaders about the general climate and discussions about how to best keep children and foster families safe during home visits and visits to campus. Management also provided regular updates on its pursuit of personal protection equipment to reassure staff their health and safety was top of mind, Roach said.
“We pride ourselves on the level of transparency we afford our employees, but that accelerated significantly in these last nine months or so.”
From mid-March to mid-June, Methodist Children’s Home also provided time-and-a-half appreciation pay for over a third of the agency’s employees who worked directly with the youth living on campus and were considered essential.
“We were asking staff to make the ultimate sacrifice of showing up in the pandemic. We had to figure out what that looked like and how we could do it,” Roach said.
And it set a $15/hour minimum hourly wage for its direct care and operations employees, all classified as “essential,” effective Oct. 1.
During the first nine months of the pandemic, the nonprofit saw turnover of less than 10 employees, fewer than it typically sees, Roach said.
Caring for youth
To protect staff and the children age 5-18 living on campus, the nonprofit converted a building that had been used for children’s recreation into a seventh cottage to quarantine children who contracted the illness and prevent outbreaks. The dedicated space helped contain the spread when two of the children in its care came down with the illness.
Equally as important in caring for the children was ensuring they could continue to connect with their families and conversely, that their peers and families in the community could continue therapy services with staff.
“When we had to shift to something like telehealth and offer therapy visits virtually or host family visits virtually, we hit the ground running on day one,” thanks to a strategic plan that saw the shift coming, Roach said.
Just over a year earlier, it had implemented a secure, virtual, after-care program for youth transitioning back into the community and their families. While limited in reach initially, the program gave it a platform to quickly build on so it could shift in mid-March to teletherapy and virtual visits between children and families.
Methodist Children’s Home shifted to remote therapy work in mid-March, the week before the initial stay-home order was issued.
Racial justice response
In the midst of it all, protests that followed the killing of George Floyd spurred staff to question how the nonprofit could work toward racial justice.
“We were already diverse, from leadership all the way through our staff, and the families we serve,” Roach said.
“But it’s not like we intentionally talked about what was going on around us.”
The organization brought in small groups of staff members to talk about and process their own experiences of racial injustices and discrimination and hosted town halls to give employees a platform to hear from each other and ask questions.
It’s using those conversations, training, employee book clubs and film series and exploring its vendor relationships to ensure vendors have shared values on race and diversity to become a more inclusive and antiracist agency.
“It’s making sure we have different tools and avenues for our employees to get more information and process on their end what their implicit bias might be,” Roach said.
Methodist Children’s Home, which is operating on a $12.8 million budget, has a healthy endowment. But despite the loss of $150,000 from two canceled fundraisers, Roach said he took the hardline view on continuing to pass on an endowment distribution as it had since 2015.
To fund the shifts it made in response to the pandemic and make up for the fundraising loss, Methodist Children’s Home was able to raise $500,000 through a spring appeal, donations, grants and additional funding for a dozen new children it took in when other agencies could not, Roach said.
It has also offered to convert another building into quarantine space for other agencies that might need it. So far, that has not come to pass, Roach said.
“We wanted to be there to help because we’re all in this together.”