July 14, 2021
Hesed House in Wharton, Texas was a fledgling nonprofit at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a challenging time for any nonprofit, even more so for one that had barely started. But for Hesed House, those difficulties were compounded because their model depended on in-person interactions to build community. Through relationship development staff and volunteers could connect the community to much-needed resources such as counseling services and through in-person classes they could offer art and yoga in an area where those opportunities were rare. To continue their work during such a crisis was to risk failure, but it was a risk they had to take.
The pandemic forced them to transition quickly and think creatively. While many nonprofits were able to move online, Hesed House mostly served individuals who did not have regular access to the internet so their transition during the pandemic required extra resourcefulness.
“We don’t have a risk-averse gospel,” Executive Director Stephanie Konvicka said definitively. “I believe the pandemic served us well. We had to stay agile and pivot to put down roots in a storm. I don’t recommend that kind of beginning for a nonprofit, but I do believe it made us stronger and we will see the fruit of that work in the months to come.”
The week before lockdowns began, they had ten classes, and this was a normal week. The next week, they had none. They felt cut off from the community they were called to serve and seemed lost without nurturing the in-person connections that had spurred their success thus far.
The only way they could connect in-person was outside, so they decided to work from their garden. As a visible reminder that Hesed House was there for the community and still had resources to offer, Stephanie and others planted themselves in the garden. From there, they could have rich conversations with people who passed by and read kind messages left for them in sidewalk chalk.
From the garden, they connected with a grandfather who was figuring out how to make sure his granddaughters looked their very best, as his daughter had just passed away and he felt unsure about girls’ clothes and hairstyles. They offered food they had grown to those in need and listened to their neighbors’ stories to hear who might need extra assistance during this crisis. And their TMF grant helped support all of this work as they transitioned through the pandemic.
Earlier that year, they had received a TMF grant they were not able to use as intended because the pandemic shifted so much of their work. However, when they had initial conversations about this with the Director of Grants, Jacki Lammert, she asked them to think about the ways they could help the community during these difficult moments. What risks could they take that would make a difference right now? As a result of TMF’s flexibility, Hesed House used those funds to keep people housed, offer food from their food pantry, pay utility bills, and more.
“Jacki has been so integral to our development as an organization,” Stephanie said. “She asked the very best questions. We developed out of those questions. Jacki saw leadership potential in me and that instilled courage. She changed my future. It is very humbling that she invested so much in me and because of her investment Hesed House is poised to invest in Wharton.”