By Russell Reinap
Korine Viehweg entered into work again for the first time in almost two weeks. Although everything was exactly in the same spot as it had been left, she knew everything was about to change. After multiple meetings with her fellow board of directors, they had decided to try to bring that normality back to the families who needed it most. Even during a global pandemic.
Viehweg is the executive director at the Northern Nevada RAVE Family Foundation (NNRFF), a local non-profit that provides respite care for families whose children have learning disabilities. Many families rely on respite care as short-term relief for overwhelmed caregivers or to provide care in an emergency situation.
After news broke that Governor Sisolak had ordered a state-wide shutdown on March 17th, Viehweg’s main goal was to determine what came next for NNRFF.
“It was really important to us that we were able to open up as quickly as possible,” said Viehweg. “First we needed to create policies and procedures to best keep the children, youth volunteers, and staff safe and healthy.”
Viehweg and the rest of the RAVE staff worked to find ways to keep a sense of normality for families, while also staying within COVID-19 safety guidelines. Tommy Metzker, a supervisor and respite care service provider at RAVE played a big role in that gameplan.
“I think as a group we felt like this needs to be a place where kids can have fun and parents can take a break without worrying that their kid is going to bring home the virus.” said Metzker. “The last thing anyone wants is to get a kid sick.”
Although some families were able to come back through RAVE’s doors in a matter of weeks, those with situations affected by COVID-19 have had to sit put. Some families that use the services at RAVE have been staying home because their children have pre-existing conditions, which according to the CDC, puts them at a heightened risk of contracting the virus. Viehweg understands how tough the situation is, so RAVE has found other ways to reach out to those families.
“It’s really unfortunate that we can’t have those families come into the center, but we have set up a RAVE YouTube channel, we offer four Zoom Sessions weekly, and we build and deliver over 300 activity bags monthly that go with the videos and Zoom sessions,” said Viehweg.
RAVE’s Youtube Channel was created in April and has since posted 118 videos. The contents of the videos include staff members reading children’s books, instructional arts and crafts videos, and outdoor activities for kids to stay active. Metzker believes that having the Youtube Channel has been a great addition to what RAVE has to offer to families.
“It’s been really great,” Said Metzker. “I think it allows families to feel like their children are still getting some of what we offer here at the center while they’re stuck at home.”
Although RAVE is finding success with their new model, RAVE’s volunteering numbers have seen a drastic decrease since the start of the pandemic. While Viehweg says RAVE projects to have around 300 volunteers by the end of the year, she says that number is far from where they’d like to be.
“It has been a lot harder to recruit due to the pandemic resulting in a decrease of volunteers at this time.” Viehweg said. “We hope to train 300 this year, which is down from 593 [in 2019].”
One of those apprehensive volunteers is McKayla Senn. Senn has worked in childcare for over three years and has volunteered for RAVE in the past. Although she enjoyed her time helping out at RAVE sessions, she says now the risk outweighs the reward tenfold.
“I’ve really loved helping out at RAVE, but my mom is in a high-risk group.” Senn said. With the treatment she’s going through, her immune system is really weak and it’s just too big of a “what if” for me to volunteer right now.”
With news breaking that Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine is being put on hold and volunteers and families alike having to opt out of RAVE, it seems as if RAVE will have to continue to function in its current state for the foreseeable future. This however, isn’t a concern for Viehweg.
“With or without a vaccine we plan to continue our center based programs with new policies & procedures, YouTube channel, Zoom sessions, and respite vouchers.”
2020 has been anything but normal for anyone and especially for the families at RAVE. Throughout these turbulent times, RAVE, Veihweg and the rest of her staff have made it clear that a sense of normality is exactly what everyone needs. Through their dedication and hardwork, they’ve been able to give back a little slice of that to these families.