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Looking back at 2020 and ahead to 2021

By Roger Slingerman, UCPCC executive director

UCPCC staffer Juan Mercado visits with students Judy and Jack.

Looking back at 2020, UCPCC got off to such a fast and successful start. We were looking ahead to an exciting year and planning for growth and looking into the future and possibly new sites for our program as we have outgrown our site.

We had just come off two successful fundraisers in 2019: our Walk-N-Wiffle and Cornhole events and our Pulling Strings dinner. In January, we were the recipients of funds from another cornhole event, the King and Queen Cornhole Tournament, and looking forward to our Cerebral Palsy Awareness event hosted by South Valley food truck Kerribb Flava’ at the Visalia BarrelHouse Brewing Co. in March and our Walk-N-Roll event in May in Hanford, both annual fundraisers supporting our children’s programs in Kings County.

Then March hit and so did COVID-19.

We started off with only some of our students staying home and then three days later all students in our program were required to stay home based on state mandates.

Hoping that this was only a temporary status and thinking it might only last for a few weeks - a month tops - we planned accordingly as we waited to re-open.

A few weeks turned into a few months. And that became where we are today, still unable to have our students back in our sites.

One of the biggest issues for the first 4-6 months was the confusion of directives from the state of California that were changing as frequently as was news of the virus.

Student Brenda works on a color sheet at her home.

We had to cancel our fundraisers and start to figure out creative ways that we could begin to work with our students in their home settings and get them materials so there could be interaction with them, mainly virtually. Special thanks goes to all of the UCPCC staff for their creativity and their drive to provide services to the students virtually. The following are just some of the ways they made this all work.

o Staff contacted families by phone and through Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings.

o Staff worked so hard to make videos and lessons that were themed each week and posted on Facebook and YouTube so students could maintain contact and consistency in their lives.

o Staff created and delivered educational packets delivered to their homes each week throughout the pandemic.

o Staff started The Birthday Party Bus, where staff showed up at students’ homes and celebrated their special day while maintaining an acceptable distance to keep them safe.

o Staffers at our sites made upgrades to each of our buildings so our sites are ready for students to return to freshly updated facilities.

Everyone at UCPCC pulled together to make this happen and gave us additional ways to provide service and keep all of our students engaged and learning and – most importantly – healthy.

This was tough on all of us, but especially on the students and their families, as they have been in a home environment for more than 9 months. The UCPCC staff made this all bearable and a more exciting experience than it could have been. I am thankful to our UCPCC staff, family and care providers who made it work!

With the cancellation of many of our fundraisers, UCPCC looked at other fundraising opportunities that would keep us in the minds of our sponsors and donors and others aware of our needs and ways they could continue to support UCPCC.

For the first time we hosted a STEPtember event, a virtual fundraiser that allowed for people to be active and raise funds and awareness for UCPCC and cerebral palsy. The event was a 28-day, 10,000 steps-per-day program that businesses and people could participate in to raise awareness and provide support for our students. The event helped people get healthier and build a routine they could continue throughout the year. We had more than 160 participants and raised well above our goal for our first year!

Folks drive through to pick up their Pulling Strings meal.

We also revised our Pulling Strings fundraiser and made it a drive-thru dinner this year. And thanks to the support of the community, we sold out the event and had more than 400 people order dinners!

Again, another successful event for awareness and raising funds! Thanks to the sponsors and all those who bought dinners and participated in our fundraising efforts.

We also had a busy year researching and writing grants to help support our program. Though many of our grants are ones that are done on a yearly basis, 2020 allowed us to apply for some additional state and federal grants, that we received and assisted us in continually providing quality programming for our students.

Many of the grants helped upgrade our technology needs as we are providing more virtual programming and they also helped us provide support to the families to make them able to utilize the virtual technology.

One of the grants we received helped us purchase a mobile changing station that we can take to sites, events and into the community. The vehicle has bathroom, shower and changing facilities that provides basic care space for assisting our students while out in the community. We are excited to get this vehicle in early 2021 and utilize it at many of our community-based sites as we move forward.

As we look back over 2020, we must feel blessed that we can continue to provide service to our students here at UCPCC. Though it may have been in a different manner, our staff exemplifies their commitment and love for what they do and whom they do it for. I am very fortunate to work with more than 140 individuals who did their best to make 2020 a great year under the circumstances. They are the heart of the UCPCC program and true champions! Thanks for allowing me to be part of this incredible team!

As we move forward into 2021, we are, of course, hoping to get our students back to our sites and continue to provide services to our students. We will start off virtually and look forward to the days when we are back to the norm or have created a “new normal” as we move forward and out of the COVID-19 era. We will continue to plan for growth and adjust to the times we face.

In moving forward, UCPCC is excited about creating a capital campaign to raise funds for a new site that will allow us to grow and provide increased quality services to our students. Keep an eye out for our fundraising opportunities and ways you can support us here at UCPCC.

2021 will be a challenging year but I feel our staff will get through these trying times and come out of it on top! We will be patient and calculated as we move forward and one day soon, we will be better together! Stay safe and have a great 2021!

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