Back in March, when the Philadelphia Outward Bound School realized that the COVID-19 crisis would disrupt the programs we had planned for 2020, we made a commitment to be ready as soon as we could to jump back into action. That meant keeping both our administrative team and our instructors employed. Early on, we worked on projects like implementing strategic plan activities, training new staff on program evaluation processes, conducting virtual staff trainings, and creating financial and program models to forecast alternate approaches to the year in order to keep POBS in a strong position. We’ve been revisiting and revising those models with our Board of Trustees every month as crises in public health, the economy, and racial justice have unfolded. We are confident we are on the right path.
For an organization devoted to experiential education, however, social distancing and participating in video calls day after day can be challenging. We long to be on the trail with our students and partners. But we are adapting to the environment we are all in. I’m so proud of the creativity and resiliency of our program staff who, in order to deliver meaningful experiences for students, redesigned our programs to be delivered by video conference.
Our new virtual program model is shorter, but is still customized to meet our partners’ goals and is delivered in a series to create real change. We’ve worked with several youth service partners so far, including SquashSmarts, Snider Hockey, and the Character Lab, and will be providing professional development sessions for School District of Philadelphia educators in August.
We’re excited to continue distance-learning for as long as we can’t be in person. In addition, over the next few months we’ll be focusing on these efforts:
- Committing to racial justice. Our board of directors approved use of funds to hire a diversity consultant to help us take a deep, hard look at our organizational practices and make changes to be more just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive. Please read our action statement here.
- We’ve made one of the pillars of the Outward Bound educational framework, Service, a top priority. From making masks to storing and delivering food to North Philadelphia distribution sites, to picking up trash in Fairmount Park, our staff is eager to use their time and talents to address community needs during a challenging time.
- We have cancelled in-person programming at least through August. In preparation for a restart, we have developed protocols to meet new standards from Outward Bound USA and keep staff and students safe on both expeditions and day programs. Compliance includes following local advisories, limiting commercial travel, testing, and social distancing. Currently, COVID-19 conditions in Philadelphia don’t allow us to meet these standards – testing turnaround time is too long to be effective, for example. Our board has endorsed the new processes to use on in-person programs when the public health outlook improves.
- If we can move forward with expeditions in the fall, we will be offering two Open Enrollment expeditions. We’ll know by mid-August if the Open Enrollment courses will run. See fall open enrollment courses here.
- The Discovery Center is closed to the public but will reopen as soon as COVID-19 rates stop rising locally. We are working with our partners at Audubon to institute new cleaning practices and room layouts to make sure staff and visitors can use the space safely.
- We’re doubling down on securing financial support for POBS. About half of our $2.5M budget is normally earned through program fees and tuition, so not being able to run programs puts a big dent in our budget. We’ve made as many non-personnel cuts as we could identify and received a PPP forgivable loan to help support payroll costs; our Board members responded with increased gifts, and our virtual event the Get Outside Gala was a big success. Still, philanthropic support is more important than ever and we need to raise $230,000 in individual gifts by December 31st. Please help us meet this goal!
July 31, 2020