A survey of Texas nonprofits by United Ways of Texas and the OneStar Foundation found that 70% saw budget constraints in the early months of the pandemic due to COVID-induced economic strains.

Over a year later, three local nonprofits—GRACE Grapevine, Valiant Hearts in Colleyville and Kids Matter International in Southlake—share how they survived and what lessons they learned.

GRACE Grapevine helps community amid tight budget

GRACE Grapevine does it all. The nonprofit started in 1987 to respond to the growing need for emergency assistance services in northeast Tarrant County.

Now, in coordination with local churches, businesses and individual donations, the nonprofit offers a wide range of programs for almost every need, ranging from a food pantry to a community clinic.

“The overall goal is to help families that are in crisis, and whatever those barriers are, we want to help knock them down in whatever way we can,” GRACE Grapevine CEO Shonda Schaefer said.

But doing so much proved to be a challenge once the pandemic hit. Schaefer said GRACE had to shut down its resale department, causing half of its employees to be furloughed.

On top of that, the number of families and clients served by GRACE Grapevine about doubled from the previous year. Many clients lost their jobs, which meant the nonprofit needed to cover their rent.

“We just kind of threw the budget out the window,” Schaefer said. “In those first two to three months, we were spending $60,000-$70,000 a month on rent [assistance]—so six, seven times what we had budgeted.”

Despite the financial risk, the nonprofit ended up serving more than double the number of clients than in the previous year. When she sent a letter to the community asking for help, she said her message was received.

“We ended up raising the dollars to cover some of that stuff,” Schaefer said.

Although the pandemic hindered many operations, when the nonprofit turned to telehealth, more clients were able to get access to health care, Schaefer said. While GRACE is back to allowing in-person visits, it is continuing to offer telehealth.

“We were able to work with people that didn’t have transportation or transportation was a huge barrier for them,” Schaefer said.

Valiant Hearts saves women with generous donations

A small group of women started delivering care packages to women in strip clubs across the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2010. But it was 2011 when that small group began a weekly support group for women in the sex industry. Then, in 2018, the nonprofit, now called Valiant Hearts, opened its emergency housing for women in crisis.

“We were founded with a mission to help women heal, [and] be restored and empowered,” Valiant Hearts Executive Director Dominique Jones said.

Based in Colleyville, Valiant Hearts helps women in the sex work industry and those who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to circumstances such as homelessness.

In addition to emergency housing and weekly support groups, Valiant Hearts offers counseling, mentorship and classes.

“About 85% of the women [Valiant Hearts serves] decide to leave the sex [work] industry,” Jones said. “It’s not something that we force them to do. It’s just when they see other opportunities out there, [and] there is another way to live, they are eager to pursue that.”

Jones said the nonprofit benefited by receiving $43,000 in COVID-19 relief funding, which Valiant Hearts used to help cover bills for women who had lost their jobs.

However, the nonprofit’s outreach program was affected, Jones said. Since most sex work-oriented businesses saw major restrictions, the group’s strip club outreach was paused. Simultaneously, Jones said sex exploitation and trafficking “have ramped up” because of the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, we have more work to do because of the pandemic,” Jones said. “But we’ve had to become more creative and think outside of the box about how to connect with women, even online.”

Kids Matter International aids kids despite setbacks

Kids Matter International in Southlake was originally founded in 2006 to raise money for kids in Guatemala, Honduras and India. After receiving pushback from the community to help “kids in our own backyard,” Kids Matter International President Marti Conner said the mission was revised.

“Our mission is really simple—we serve children who live in poverty right here within this community, [and] the communities around this area of Northeast Tarrant [County],” Conner said.

Kids Matter International offers services like work transition and reading programs.

But the nonprofit’s biggest program is Around The Block, in collaboration with Kohl’s and McCarty Family Trust. The program, done once a year in Southlake, Arlington and Austin, distributes essentials such as books, backpacks and clothes to kids and families in need.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kids Matter International felt its effect, Conner said. The nonprofit was able to hold its Around The Program in only a few of its markets. The nonprofit’s number of books distributed and volunteers dropped significantly.

Since the nonprofit wasn’t able to distribute as many books in 2020, it gathered volunteers to video themselves reading children’s books.

Kids Matter International typically serves kids of single moms who hold one to two jobs and struggle with basic needs. When the pandemic hit, many lost their jobs or had to quit since their kids weren’t in school.

“So we had double jeopardy there in terms of all the needs that they had,” Conner said.

Despite the pandemic, Conner said Kids Matter International is bouncing back.

In November, the nonprofit will host its Around The Block programs. Volunteers will take 2,000 kids shopping at each Kohl’s location. Conner said the nonprofit’s goal is to continue to grow.

“We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Conner said.