Responding to COVID-19 in... Birmingham, Alabama
This post continues a series highlighting the responses of SECF members to the COVID-19 pandemic in their communities. We will use this series to highlight partnerships, coalitions and innovative examples of giving that help those affected by this crisis. If you are involved in a program you would like to see highlighted here, contact David Miller, director of marketing and communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even as essential workers have put their health at risk and endured long hours during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the supports that allow them to work under normal circumstances are no longer available – including child care.
In Alabama, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham is working to fill a critical gap created by the closure of schools and day care centers. Their response will be fueled by money raised through the new ROAR for Women Fund.
“ROAR aims to provide direct relief and recovery for an industry that is one of the most critical infrastructures in our state: child care,” said Melanie Bridgeforth, president and CEO of The Women’s Fund, a grantmaking public charity. “The funds will largely support women-owned businesses powered by women employees. ROAR is also giving essential workers – the majority of whom are women – the ability to continue their vital work as the crisis stretches on.”
The need for ROAR came into focus quickly once the severity of the pandemic became clear, Bridgeforth said.
“We did a lot of listening in that first week of social distancing and we heard one thing loud and clear from community officials and business leaders: save child care,” she said. “At the time of our launch, only 7 percent of licensed child care centers in Alabama were open and operating. We understood that some would close permanently with devastating and long-term effects not only for the communities in which they serve but also for women. We wanted to do our best to mitigate that possibility.”
Resources from the ROAR fund will go toward a variety of child care needs, including pay for child care workers and essential supplies like mattresses.
“ROAR for Women dollars are flexible and can be used to fill ‘gaps’ left open by other funding, multiplying the benefit for child care providers,” Bridgeforth said. “The immediate launch of ROAR was essential to protect child care centers now and during their recovery once the pandemic has eased.”
Bridgeforth said ROAR could not succeed without a variety of partners, including government agencies and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, which committed $100,000 to the fund.
“Fortunately, The Women’s Fund has great, long-standing relationships with statewide stakeholders around child care, so we were able to carefully but nimbly connect funders to priorities in order to successfully create, stand-up, and execute our response to help a critical industry which is largely powered by women,” Bridgeforth said. “Until the launch of ROAR, there was no coordinated response specifically targeted to support the child care industry. But together, with a group of local and state leaders, The Women’s Fund changed that.”
With fundraising now underway, a grants and allocations committee has begun weekly meetings to deploy funds quickly and effectively, Bridgeforth said. Meanwhile, the foundation hasn’t put its other work on hold.
“As our region and state’s only public women’s foundation, we work every day to build equity for women through funding and shaping change,” Bridgeforth said. “Our mission is continuing, simply carried out in a different way, including finalizing research projects, and keeping well-informed of any and all legislative activities related to our 2020 Agenda for Women.”