gwen's girls

COVID-19 has turned the world upside down for everyone, but for people with disabilities, the effect is even more pronounced.

  • Children who were getting much-needed educational support at school suddenly were learning remotely from home. That left parents to fill in, who lacked clarity on what to expect from schools.
  • For those who depend on caregivers for daily tasks, social distancing was never an option. Caregivers are a necessity as aways but now are also a risk.
  • Those with chronic health issues had a greater need to quarantine and they will need to continue to quarantine until there is a vaccine — likely long past the point where others can return to normal. Stress levels are through the roof, increasing vulnerability to violence and abuse.

To be responsive to these changing needs, the FISA Foundation just issued its first Request for Ideas, an open call for letters of inquiry for projects and services to address the needs of people with disabilities, says Kristy Trautmann, executive director of the FISA Foundation.

“The impact of the pandemic on people with disabilities, their families and the organizations that support them is significant and far-reaching,” she notes. “We have an imperative to build a more inclusive and equitable society where the rights and needs of people with disabilities are prioritized and people with disabilities are advocates and leaders.”

FISA has been committed to addressing inequities affecting women, particularly women and girls of color, says Trautmann. “We believed that renewed local conversations about gender and racial equity spurred by the Gender Equity Commission report were nearing a tipping point. By March, when the impact of COVID-19 was beginning to be felt in earnest locally, FISA was already deep in conversations with several grant applicants about their proposals.

“We’re proud that half of our grant budget for the last several months was invested in organizations led by Black women working on equity and justice issues, and believe their work is more important than it has ever been.”

The foundation was also committed to responding as best they could to the COVID-19 crisis. “Our board was particularly worried about two things: maintaining life supports and services for people with disabilities who were at high risk for the virus, and responding to the global increase in domestic violence while victims were trapped at home with abusive partners and unable to reach out for help.”
The FISA Board of Directors approved $250,000 in grants since April:
• $52,500 to Gwen’s Girls, an organization known for its strengths-based, trauma-informed programs for Black girls also convenes the nationally-recognized Black Girls Equity Alliance, a coalition of organizations and individuals committed to: addressing over-policing of Black girls, disparities in educational opportunities, sexual and reproductive health, and violence; and overrepresentation in the child welfare system.

• $45,000 to New Voices for Reproductive Justice, a 16-year-old organization that advocates for the comprehensive health and well-being of Black women, femmes and girls so they can lead long, healthy and joyful lives.

• $25,000 for the Black Women’s Policy Agenda (via fiduciary Side Project, Inc.) The emerging initiative, spearheaded by Rochelle Jackson, a leading public policy advocate, is dedicated to creating a collective policy to advance equity for Black women and girls in the Pittsburgh region. Jackson commented, “The Black Women’s Policy Agenda will collaborate with Black women leaders across disciplines and sectors to shape and change policy through storytelling, research, analysis and advocacy.”

FISA Foundation invested $55,000 in grants to address critical needs of people with disabilities during the coronavirus crisis:

  • $5,000 to AAC Institute to support teletherapy for individuals with speech disorders who use augmentative or alternative technology to communicate.
  • $5,000 to Autism Urban Connection to provide education, support, advocacy and empowerment to Black and other minority families of those diagnosed with autism.
  • $10,000 to ARC Human Services, Inc. for increased costs in providing residential supports to people with intellectual disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis and recovery.
  • $10,000 to Community Living and Support Services (CLASS) for increased costs in providing attendant care and residential supports to people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis and recovery.
  • $10,000 to Global Links to procure and distribute clear face masks to disability-serving agencies to allow effective communication with people who are deaf or have developmental disabilities.
  • $5,000 to Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy (via fiduciary, Side Project) for general operating support for peer support and mutual aid efforts during COVID-19.
  • $10,000 to Transitional Paths to Independent Living (TRPIL) for increased costs in providing attendant care and other support to people with disabilities during the COVID- 19 crisis and recovery. Globally and locally, reports of Intimate Partner Violence increased during the quarantine period of COVID-19, with many victims trapped at home with abusive partners and unable to reach out for help. FISA Foundation awarded $25,000 in grants to address gaps in reaching victims of abuse.
  • $20,000 to Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh to support a collaborative outreach and communication initiative to reach victims of intimate partner violence during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • $5,000 to Helping All Victims in Need (HAVIN) to provide safe housing and support to victims of domestic violence in Armstrong County during the COVID 19 crisis and recovery.

In addition, FISA awarded:

  • $30,000 to Autism Connection to provide information, referral, and advocacy for individuals with autism and their families, and to train police and cultural leaders to work effectively with people on the autism spectrum.
  • $30,000 to Sisters Place in general operating support for services to assist homeless mothers and their children.
  • $5,000 to The Pittsburgh Foundation to support the COVID-19 Emergency Action Fund.

NEXT staff

The staff at NEXTpittsburgh writes about the people driving change in the region and the innovative and cool things happening here.