Interview with Amy Fargo on
Amy Klein is the Family Services Manager and Jeremiah Program’s Fargo, North Dakota, campus, where she also serves as a family coach for the resident mothers.
When did you first realize the COIVD-19 pandemic was going to affect your life and the lives of Jeremiah Program families?
It was March 15th because that’s when our governor canceled school for the week. To be quite honest, I thought, “This isn’t going to last long. It’s going to be a week and we’ll be back and running, back in business.”
We had childcare open on the 16th and that was the last day that the child development center was open. Then, moms were wondering, “Are we opening up on the 23rd? What’s happening?” It became more serious when there was an email from Chastity that basically said, “We don’t want to open these child development centers too soon when this pandemic hasn’t really even hit some areas.”
It’s been surreal for everyone involved; I don’t think anybody ever thought something like this would happen in their lifetime. We work with 18 women in the program, and they’re also thinking that same thing: This is just completely surreal—and is this really happening?
What was your biggest concern for the families you work with when this first began?
Two of the greatest benefits we offer to these moms is safe, affordable housing and affordable, reliable, and outstanding childcare. I knew in my heart that if they weren’t able to pay their rent for the month, they weren’t going to get kicked out. We would figure out something. So, the housing piece wasn’t a concern. But they are still enrolled in college, now online. A lot of [the moms] are still working, and then we had to shut down our child development centers. Then, my concern went to, “Are they going to be able to continue working? Are they going to be able to continue school because their kids are going to be with them all the time?” Those were my two biggest concerns.
How has your job has changed since that time?
Where my office is, all moms used to go past me in the mornings when they drop off their kids and when they pick up their kids. I would see them all a lot. I feel I have some very good connections with the moms; I probably talked to some of them two to three times a day. I think that was the biggest shift for me: There are really no face-to-face meetings recommended at this point unless we’re six feet away. That was probably the biggest shift for the residents as well, not being able to pop in, talk to me, ask me a question, have me help them with something.
Are you doing coaching over the phone?
I’m having meetings over Zoom at this point. I was kind of worried about it, and the first few minutes are kind of awkward, but then you start talking and chatting and it’s fine. The biggest distraction for the mom’s is having their children right there. They are busy and want to see who is on the iPad or phone. Normally if they had to talk to me about something or if they needed help with something—with school or paperwork or anything like that—their kids would have been in childcare. Now, those kids are with those moms almost 100 percent of the time.
What kinds of supports have you noticed your clients needing?
The moms in our program are doing really well right now, all things considered. Most moms were able to get their taxes filed right before this happened, so financially they were doing okay. Even some who have lost their jobs are eligible for unemployment, so I’m helping them with that, if needed.
I keep asking them every time we get done [with] a meeting, “How are you doing on supplies? How are you doing on food? Is there anything that we can help you with?” Between their taxes and the stimulus money they have received, most are doing okay right now. If this goes two or three months more, that may not be the case.
If an individual has mental health issues, I think this is much harder for them than it is for those who are not experiencing any mental health issues right now. This pandemic and the quarantine is pretty tough on them: just being cooped up in their apartment, not feeling like they can leave, being scared to go out for fear of getting the virus, and having all of their normal turned upside down. Some individuals really rely on that stability and that routine, and everything just got flipped. The hardest thing is: Nobody has answers. Nobody knows when everything’s going back to normal. Nobody knows when daycare’s going to reopen. There are more unknowns than answers right now.
How is Jeremiah showing support for staff?
I have one word: valued. At a time when companies are forced to lay off employees because of these very uncertain and financially challenging times, Jeremiah Program leadership has stepped up and ensured that our jobs are secure.
Most people are working from home, which is a blessing. If you or somebody in your family has immune deficiency issues or whatever the case may be, to be able to have that option to be able to work from home is great appreciated.
They’re strategically thinking, “How can we make this work? We are asking you to work from home, but you still have to do your job.” So, that entails the virtual coaching, virtual Empowerment, and meetings. My direct supervisor is very understanding and very willing to listen, always has an open ear to concerns or questions.
What worries you most about the pandemic?
My biggest fear is one of our Jeremiah families, one of our moms, getting the virus. What if it ended up spreading through the building?
I’m kind of with everybody else: “How long is this going to go on? When can we get back to our new normal? What kind of impact is this going to have long-term on people?” There are just so many unknowns.
How do you see things being different in the future?
I think the way we interact as a society will change drastically. People may always have that fear of something like this happening again and will be mindful of what they are doing and how they are doing it. I feel that Jeremiah Program will have more programmatic pieces offered virtually, from coaching to Empowerment as well as life-skills classes. I personally think at the beginning this may be a little challenging because this will be something new, another change in the way we do things. One thing I worry about is that there won’t be those personal connections—or as strong of connections—going forward. However, people and views evolve and change every day and soon this may be the new normal. I do feel that we will be able to have a greater impact on more women in our communities by being able to offer classes virtually. It’s the right direction to go because who knows if this will ever happen again. If it does, we will be ready.