Caring as a Career
The field of nonprofit management can be rewarding as well as challenging. Just ask Brateil Aghasi.
When coronavirus began its merciless assault, the most vulnerable among us were impacted first and hardest. So were those who work so hard to serve them. For the good people at the nonprofit WISEPlace, it posed an especially daunting set of challenges in an already embattled sector.
Dedicated to assisting homeless women in Orange County, WISEPlace has been providing transitional housing, mental health services, addiction recovery and a host of other services for more than 90 years, helping thousands of women get back on their feet.
But the COVID-19 pandemic was something altogether new and terrible to deal with, requiring immediate action in an uncertain environment, said Brateil Aghasi, CEO of WISEPlace and advisory committee member for DCE’s Nonprofit Management Specialized Studies program.
“COVID-19 has brought challenges to an already challenged industry,” she said. “Homelessness doesn’t stop for a pandemic, and either does WISEPlace. At first, I had to quickly set new policies in place to keep my team, the women we serve, and our OC community safe. That’s obviously very challenging when our shelter has communal living spaces, communal showers and an overwhelmingly older population with compromised health.”
Thanks to her experience and leadership, Aghasi and her staff responded quickly with creative solutions and community partnerships. WISEPlace brought in temporary dividers and spread out much of its at-risk population, relocating many to private motels and other types of temporary shelter.
“Most nonprofit shelters have had to reduce occupancy by at least 25% due to physical distancing. For example, you go from two people in a room to one person in a room. It’s a balancing act because our services are needed now more than ever, yet we need more shelter and housing space to keep everyone safe.”
Immediate health and safety practices such as mandatory mask wearing and increased sanitation protocols were implemented, and aggressive scheduling allowed for limited staff contact and proper space to safely distance. Everything changed overnight to protect the staff, volunteers and the women served by WISEPlace.
“It was our duty to help keep OC healthy,” Aghasi said. “The first two months of COVID-19, I worked seven days a week and I don’t think I slept more than four or five hours a night. My team was incredible and really rose to the occasion. And, of course, none of it would have been possible without the community’s support with online fundraisers and donations. It was and continues to be a team effort, and the community support makes it all possible.”
It’s these essential partnerships, guided by skilled leadership, that continue providing much-needed services to our most vulnerable populations — and it wouldn’t be possible without those dedicated individuals seeking a career in nonprofit management.
“It’s great to be surrounded by and network with others who have a passion for driving positive change in our community. Those are the types of people you want to surround yourself with and learn from.” Brateil Aghasi