The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting daily life in America, as well as around the globe, in unprecedented ways. Locally, one non-profit business which has suspended operations is trying to make the best out of a difficult situation. Last Wednesday, the staff of Chippewa Enterprises organized a caravan which traveled to the homes of their clients.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting daily life in America, as well as around the globe, in unprecedented ways. Locally, one non-profit business which has suspended operations is trying to make the best out of a difficult situation. On Wednesday, April 1, the staff of Chippewa Enterprises organized a caravan which traveled to the homes of their clients.

Staff made signs and gift bags, and drove to each of the homes where their clients live. The caravan of vehicles stopped at each residence, where staff got out of their vehicles to wave and cheer to their clients. Needless to say, staff and clients were very excited to see one another!

For those who may not be familiar with Chippewa Enterprises, the non-profit is a Day Training and Habilitation program for adults with developmental disabilities. The last day of work for clients and staff was on March 16. Gwen Nokleby, Director of Chippewa Enterprises, said: “We decided to close until the shelter in place restrictions are lifted. That may likely change, but that is where we are at right now.”

The decision to close Chippewa Enterprises came from the board of the non-profit. “The decision was made for the safety of the people we serve, as well as our staff,” said Nokleby. “We have a lot of clients who are medically compromised health-wise, and we didn’t want to be a part of anyone getting infected. It’s the same for our staff: we’re all very close and concerned for each other.”

Chippewa Enterprises currently provides services for 35 clients and they have 15 staff, 13 of whom are direct care professionals.

Being separated from each other has been challenging for staff and clients alike. Nokleby said: “It is difficult. So many of the people we serve have been here for many years. We’re a part of their lives; we’re like a big family!”

Routine is very important for people with developmental disabilities, and their jobs were an important part of their weekly routine. “They all have wonderful homes, but being home all the time is not the routine they are used to. We don’t want them to feel like they’ve been abandoned. We want them to know we haven’t forgotten about them, and that we will all be back together someday,” said Nokleby.

The temporary closing of Chippewa Enterprises creates challenges for the business end of the operation, as well. Like many businesses, even though the doors are closed, there are still bills to be paid.

“We’re working with our association, which is the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation, to secure some state funding,” said Nokleby. “We still have bills to pay; all our operating expenses are still there. As a non-profit, we don’t have that big of a margin to work with, so it has been difficult. Our funding is directly related to client attendance.”

According to Nokleby, Chippewa Enterprises has been working with MOHR in approaching the State Legislature to request additional funding. “We’re trying to see if we can get some assistance, but everyone else is asking for money, too,” she said.

One option available to small businesses like Chippewa Enterprises is the Small Business Admini­stration, which has recently made loans available to small businesses. “The SBA wants small businesses to apply, and they’ve made it easier to apply,” said Nokleby. “I’m currently in the process of applying right now. There are other grants out there, as well as other loan opportunities.”

Despite the separation of staff and clients, Nokleby feels her staff has been positive about the way things are. “I think our staff seems to be in good spirits,” she said. “We have a text stream going, and we have some people who are sending happy and inspirational thoughts. I think overall everyone is doing ok.”

Simply being in the Chippewa Enterprises building during the shut down is hard for staff. “It’s strange; you expect to hear music or people talking, and there’s nothing but silence,” Nokleby said. “When our clients are here, there is always something going on! We know everyone is anxious to get back to work, but we need to be patient. We’re hoping this doesn’t last long, but we can’t make any predictions.”

Wednesday’s convoy was a great chance for staff to show their clients how much they are missed. Nokleby said: “All of us miss the camaraderie between staff and clients. For them, it’s a big social part of their lives! They look forward to coming to work every day; they have friendships that have lasted years.”

For now, no one can be sure when staff and clients will return to work, but in the meantime staff will work diligently to maintain connections with their clients. Nokleby said: “We’ll definitely do the convoy again. We can’t go in and give them hugs, but we can give them lots of waves and cheers!”