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Nonprofits hope they’re not forgotten in pandemic

Fort Croghan Grounds and Museum in Burnet

Fort Croghan Grounds and Museum and other nonprofits have had financial troubles during the COVID-19 pandemic as many have closed facility doors and canceled events. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

After COVID-19 hit and school campuses were closed, Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes Executive Director Bill Drake realized essential workers had fewer options than before for child care.

“We circled up as a staff and tried to decided what to do,” he said. 

After meeting with Burnet County Local Health Authority Dr. Jules Madrigal about COVID-19 health restrictions, the club opened April 6, offering full-day services for 40 children in Marble Falls and 20 children in Burnet. 

“We went from basically 3½ hours of after-school programming a day to 10½ hours. So, immediately, our costs started soaring.”

In Burnet, Fort Croghan Grounds and Museum faced a different dilemma. With most of its volunteers in their 80s, a group at greater risk of disease complications, officials decided to close the museum this past spring and cancel two popular events: Fort Croghan Day in October and Christmas at Old Fort Croghan in December. With the exception of those two events, the museum is closed in the fall to regular tours and reopens in the spring.

“It’s almost been a year now since we’ve been open,” said Fort Croghan’s Judy Lively. 

The pandemic has had an impact on nonprofits across the country, according to reports, and many are struggling.

For some, COVID-19 has created a hard-to-meet demand for services; for others, it has hit revenue streams with the cancellation of fundraisers and programs. According to an August study by the United Ways of Texas and OneStar Foundation, 82 percent of Texas nonprofits have canceled events or are planning to do so. About 70 percent of the nonprofits surveyed reported budget problems.

When the Boys & Girls Club opened its Marble Falls and Burnet units in April to children of medical staff, first responders, and essential workers, officials had to increase staff hours. As the pandemic continued and more parents returned to work, the club opened its other units to accept even more children.

“Normally, we have 10 weeks of summer programming, but in Marble Falls and Burnet, we had basically 19 weeks of it because of going to full days in the spring,” Drake said.

The added salary costs and other operational expenses came at the same time the club’s board decided to cancel its biggest annual fundraiser, the Buckaroo Ball. 

The Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes relies on local support; it does not receive funding from the government or the national club. 

During the summer and now with its after-school programming, the club offers services at six sites across the Highland Lakes and works with three school districts. Currently, with one exception, all of the sites have a waiting list of 10-35 kids. 

“There is a tremendous need for what we do,” Drake said. 

At Fort Croghan, Lively said underexposure is an issue. With being closed for so long, she worries people will forget about it and not return when it opens, whenever that may be.

To keep that from happening, the museum is offering pre-arranged guided tours of its grounds. Groups must schedule them with Lively at COVID-19 precautions will be followed, and the tours will only be of the outside grounds, not the museum itself. However, a big draw, Lively said, are the authentic log cabins on the property. 

“People really enjoy those,” she said. 

The museum is also in the middle of a fundraiser to build the Fort Croghan Plaza of Honor, which was started before the pandemic. People can purchase a 4-inch-by-8-inch brick with a dedication at $100 each. The plaza will be dedicated to those who played an important role in settling Burnet County.

“We want to make sure people remember we’re here, even if we aren’t open right now,” Lively said. 

For Drake and the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes, the units are open and operating as full as allowed under pandemic restrictions. It’s a matter of keeping them open.

“We’ve had hard times before, and we’ve come through them, but nobody has seen anything like this before,” Drake said. “We’re cautiously optimistic, but we’re also reaching out to the community for their support.”

Those interested in helping the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes can learn more at its website.