Sheryl Balthrop is the executive director at the Eugene Mission. In her past, she has practiced business law, served on the board for the Chamber of Commerce, and has been the president of Airport Rotary in Eugene.

Throughout COVID, Southtowne has partnered with The Mission through the Food Boxes program. The Mission strives to help folks move out of crisis and into a place where they are ready to rejoin the community. 

Entering COVID

At the start of COVID, community members called asking how the Mission would protect guests and the community. To keep guests and volunteers from being vectors for the virus, the Mission closed the campus to volunteers, going from 100s of people to a much smaller staff. 

The Eugene Mission Adopts a Closed Campus Model

After the Mission closed their campus, there were far less people coming and going. While this meant less help from volunteers, they had much more one-on-one time to work with guests. This allowed for bonding and trust to develop between guests and staff in unique ways.

Creating Smaller Living Spaces

To avoid the risk of transmitting the virus, the Mission reorganized their dormitory environment. They transformed large dormitory settings into small, distanced pods. They also had staff move out of office spaces and changed them into small living spaces, similar to college dormitories. 

Before COVID, these new living arrangements were avoided because additional oversight was needed. Due to the closed campus and closer interactions with guests, there was more trust and less need for oversight. 

There have been many positive effects from the smaller living spaces. For one, guests have slept better and have felt more comfortable in their environment. For many, this has led to improved health and healthier interactions with their pod mates. 

Success Stories of Guests

With an increase in individual attention, many guests have bloomed. One woman, who had been very withdrawn, asked if she could volunteer at the front desk. Throughout 2020, she grew more confident and ultimately secured a job. She is now living independently.

Implementing the R Cubed Model

The closed campus model also allowed the Mission to develop their R Cubed program. This meant working closely with guests to address their long-term goals and identify what disconnections they faced vocationally, educationally, and relationally. Ultimately, this model shifts from a transactional delivery of charity services to a more in-depth, holistic approach towards wellness.

Learning from Guests

As staff worked with guests in these new ways, they found how unique people’s challenges were. Some guests needed help with financial skills, while others needed to learn basic cooking skills. By working with guests and listening to their needs, new insights emerged that will inform future class curriculums at the Eugene Mission.

Tracking Growth

Testing out the R Cubed program revealed the importance of tracking how guests were benefiting from The Mission’s services. Sheryl believes this kind of tracking is critical for any entity providing services to vulnerable folks. 

When a person enters the Mission, staff should identify their condition. This way, they will have a clear starting point to measure the guest’s improvement. This will help ensure that all areas of a guest’s well-being are addressed so that a cycle of crisis does not repeat. 

Creating a Long-term Approach

During COVID, the Mission has also focused more on how to support guests who leave the Mission. The Mission is working on developing relationships with employers and other local organizations so that when guests are ready to rejoin the community, they have a local network of support. 

Audience Questions and Answers

1. How Did The Mission’s Programs Change During COVID?

For one, the Eugene Mission is serving significantly more people. Through mobile outreach, they are able to reach many people in need. Additionally, they are receiving large amounts of donations at their donation center.

 2. Why Were COVID-19 Cases Low for So Long?

Sheryl thinks that there were no cases of COVID at the Mission for so long because many of their unhoused guests were not traveling or camping close to others. However, there could have also been COVID cases that were undiagnosed due to a lack of available testing. 

3. When Will the Mission Accept New Participants?

The Mission is bringing folks into their addiction recovery program on an individual basis. They are also focusing on reopening their rescue system in batches to prevent infection.

Even during the most trying of times, organizations like The Eugene Mission are working to support our community’s most vulnerable members. For more on the amazing work happening locally and abroad, explore our other blogs.