By Haley Sawyer
Service-oriented nonprofit organizations are known for their high-energy schedules, but leading one like the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge during a global pandemic has proved to be an adventure of its own for recently named Executive Director Ethan Stern.
Soon after beginning his duties in March, Stern was required — under a statewide directive from Gov. Gavin Newsom — to close the Community Center’s doors due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
He sent an email to nearly 6,000 people who had been enrolled at the center, explaining the closure and offering refunds of payments for classes.
“We were issuing so many refunds,” Stern said. “When you’re a director and you’re watching that revenue go back out there, it’s scary. It’s disheartening. You know that your programs give so much to the community and people value them.”
The center also offered the option of donating program tuition instead of receiving a refund. Happily, he said, the CCLCF ended up receiving the same amount of money in donations as it refunded.
“It showed me that the community that is involved with the center, it really values the center and it’s been a big part of their family for generations, and they really are stepping up,” said Stern.
The center is stepping up to the challenge, too. When it had to physically close its doors, it quickly moved as many programs as it could to an online format. Then, on June 16, the center began to safely open again for limited programs.
Most music and fitness classes are still being held online, but some programming for kids and ceramics classes have been operating with safety precautions. Counselors supervise pickups and drop-offs, take the temperatures of program participants before they even leave the car, and make sure that masks are worn at all times.
All activities, whether they‘re crafts or games, are socially distanced. Groups are held in the center’s main room or on the basketball courts or fields outside.
“I’m really glad we’re running because I know they’ve been cooped up in the house since March, and now with the school programs going online these kids need to get outside, they need to be socializing. So we’re doing our best to keep everyone safe,” said counselor Emily Mar.
“We are wiping down the tables constantly, doing hand-washing after each activity so we’re doing a really good job keeping everyone safe.”
In addition to maintaining programs, the Community Center has not laid off any of its staff. Conversely, the staff is putting forth more effort than usual and adjusting on the fly to the ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions.
“Unbelievable. The things that they are doing on the run, just changing in a minute and making everything run smoothly and just to keep us open,” said Michael Leininger, president of the CCLCF Board of Directors. “Although it may not be fully open, we’re able to service the community and provide programs, so they are just over and above any expectations.”
As the community turns its attention to the fall, the center is starting an enrichment camp in tandem with the school year. Until the county deems it safe to return to campuses, students will be able to do distance learning in a supervised environment at the Community Center and participate in other activities designed by staff members, a relief to working parents and guardians.
“We’ve developed a bunch of really great social distanced activities we’re doing in day camps, so we should be able to do that,” said Stern. “And I’m sure you can imagine, there’s been a ton of demand from parents looking for some support to provide during the school year.”
The center’s staff remains in constant contact with the Los Angeles County health department to make sure it is following all guidelines. They’re also revamping the website and registration software.
The center was forced to cancel its Casino Night fundraiser, and the Thanksgiving Day 5K run/walk will likely be canceled or moved to a virtual format. CCLCF is still accepting donations through its website at cclcf.org, and volunteers in limited capacities as it continues to endure.
“I can only imagine what this Community Center has been through in the last 70 years,” Stern said. “I kind of view this as one more blip in the road, and we need to take every precaution to make sure our employees and people who come here are safe. And as long as we can do that, we’ll continue to offer programs for them.”