Good relationships formed with trust and reliable expectations do not happen overnight. It takes time and communication. Stafford has worked for years to develop its relationships with the community partners it relies upon to assist residents. As a result, when COVID-19 hit, those connections were already in place, and those nonprofits were ready to step up and provide much needed extra assistance. Last year, through the budget process, Stafford funded $1.6 million to community partners. Additionally, the County granted nearly $500,000 in CARES Act money to community partners to sustain them during the pandemic.
"We have a very hands-on approach with our community partners. We get to know them and understand their programming and initiatives. We monitor their outcomes to ensure they are addressing community needs," said Deputy County Administrator Donna Krauss, who also oversees Stafford's Human Services office. "When the pandemic worsened, affecting incomes, mental health and other social issues, we were confident we could count on our partners."
These partners often fill the gap when citizens do not meet the County's eligibility for federally and state-mandated services. Community partners provide the needed support for Stafford’s citizens struggling to be successful. In 2020, community partners included EmpowerHouse, Habitat for Humanity, Healthy Families Rappahannock Area, S.E.R.V.E. and Stafford Junction. A full list of funded partners may be found at https://bit.ly/2KQMAbb. They provide a wide range of supportive services within mental health, new parent support, domestic violence services, aging services, disabilities, basic needs services, shelter, homelessness services, sexual abuse victims and legal aid services for those who do not have access to legal services. And, at this very moment, Stafford is working closely with Healthy Generations Area Agency on Aging to answer and assist those who are 65 and older regarding COVID-19 vaccines by calling 540-371-3375.
Organizations must apply every year for funding via the Community Partner Funding Process, a process involving an application uniform to the Planning District to which Stafford belongs. Planning District 16 also includes the City of Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Caroline, and King George. Stafford looks for a demonstrated impact on the community in reviewing funding requests. When an organization requests funding, they are examined based on several criteria that include whether they fill an existing gap. Everyone must reapply every year. Organizations are encouraged to seek funding from other sources as well, as Stafford's funds are limited, and collaboration is highly encouraged between groups to strengthen what is offered.
Stafford was the only locality in the Planning District to develop a funding process for community partners to request CARES Act funding to help them be sustainable through the crisis. Krauss said normal fundraising activities were curtailed during quarantine, and referrals were down as people stayed home. Also, donations were down, affecting the bottom line of organizations receiving increased requests for assistance. Because of existing relationships, the County felt confident that the CARES Act money would benefit the citizens. Most nonprofits used the funding to pivot their operations to more online accessibility.
Krauss credits the Board of Supervisors for its willingness to help community partners, even during tough times. Because of strong relationships and a strict process, the Board knows it can depend upon these organizations. The Board has been very supportive of making sure community partners are successful.