SBE offices closed---Operations continue

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that all schools would be closed, beginning Monday, March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This directive was received late Friday afternoon, March 13th and required an immediate response at Saint Benedict Education Center to prepare for the new situation created for participants and the staff. The basic expectations and needs would remain the same, but in a unique and challenging situation.

The Director, Nancy Sabol, made a decision to close all offices to the public while ensuring the continuation of operations. The safety of everyone was paramount.

For the administration and staff the directive to “work at home” is very real: 

  • Stay home to help control the spread of the virus and to care for the children who are not in child care or school, including both children of the participants and of many staff members; 
  • Work in consistent, creative ways to tend to the needs, the fears and insecurities, and the uncertainties of participants and their families during this time.

While focused attention is being given to SBEC participants, members of the administration and staff are also offering support to each other as they work together in new ways – mainly online or by telephone. 

Multiple individuals, groups, and government offices need to be contacted regularly to stay informed as to the latest information and directives. Conference calls are held regularly to participate in relevant information-sharing and decision-making conversations. SBEC staff members need to be in communication with each other as well as with participants and employers to share information and be aware of needs as they arise. 

The director has daily conference calls and email contact with various partners, including the county assistance office (CAO), CareerLink, the Intermediate Unit (IU), and others to share information and receive State guidance. Case Managers in Erie, Crawford, Clarion, Venango, Warren and Forest counties maintain contact with their clients. Instructors compile resources, links, etc. for participants to work on at home. The job development department has been keeping in touch with employers concerning their status and potential job openings. 

Staff members have shared what they are doing. They are:

  • In constant communication with each other and with participants, providing them with encouragement and support; 
  • Helping them know what to do if laid off or if their childcare is closed; 
  • Reminding them that all schools are giving out food; 
  • Providing updates from the governor; 
  • Notifying them as to the companies that are hiring; 
  • Checking on how the participants are doing mentally and physically; 
  • Trying to supply items that they may need; 
  • Making masks in the Mending Place which were sent to Sarah Reed Center for children and adults, and will be sent to other agencies; 
  • Hand-delivering packets to the refugees that include information on personal hygiene and what to do in an emergency; 
  • Preparing lessons and monitoring online learning and offering hard copy materials for the participants. The students have been able to contact an instructor when help is needed with connecting to these online learning sites or with any questions. 

Case Manager Cheryl Witherspoon added the following comments: “They [the clients] have been very receptive. Very grateful for the calls! They were even worried about us!” 

The staff of Saint Benedict Education Center prides itself on the intense and caring case management it offers to all its participants. Truly that tradition continues in this time of crisis – a time that demands creativity and hard work. In the midst of their own personal and family concerns, the staff have put their clients first, and they are working tirelessly to assist in any way possible.