Nonprofit Nazareth Child and Family Connection, nonprofits feel effects of ‘great resignation’

Published 9:43 am Monday, December 20, 2021

ROCKWELL — As businesses and organizations across the country are feeling the impact of what is being called “the great resignation,” one local nonprofit is experiencing the phenomenon firsthand.

Based in Rockwell, Nazareth Child and Family Connection provides residential services for children in foster care, transitional housing for young adults and day treatment for elementary and middle school children, among other programs. Although Nazareth is licensed to help children from all 100 of North Carolina’s counties, most of the children the agency offers services to come from within a 90-mile radius of Rockwell. 

Nazareth typically operates seven residential homes at its care facility, serving between 40-45 children at a time. But since the pandemic started, the agency has had to close three of those homes and is currently only home to about 20 children. 

Like many businesses and organizations, Nazareth is grappling with the dilemma of being under-staffed. Currently, Nazareth needs to fill 14 positions, or almost 20% of its normal staff of 80. The biggest need is residential counselors, where there are presently 10 openings.

The agency’s staffing problem began about six months ago when an abnormally high number of employees decided to leave. Nazareth typically experiences a 10% turnover rate per year, but that number increased to 25% in 2021.

“When you talk about ‘the great resignation,’ I think we’re experiencing a little bit of that,” said Jennifer Ethridge, director of human resources at Nazareth.

“The great resignation” is the term being assigned to the record number of employees in the United States who have left their jobs over the last year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.2 million Americans quit their jobs in October. A similar number of workers left in September. The movement is being attributed to workers reassessing their priorities or leaving in-person positions in search of remote work, among other factors.

Ethridge is pointing to several of the same reasons for why some of Nazareth’s employees moved on.

“A lot of times people are looking for something completely different,” Ethridge said. “They’re looking for jobs that have less exposure to other people and they’re looking sometimes for jobs that they feel will keep them a little safer health wise. They’re looking for jobs, too, where they can work from home.”

At Nazareth, personal interaction between workers and residents is an inherent part of the job.

Residential counselors, the position of biggest need, live among the agency’s residents and work seven days before having seven days off. Their responsibilities include caring for the safety, security and welfare of residents and monitoring mental health and behavior and providing guidance to all residents. The other positions of need, which include a counselor, administrative assistant, kitchen helper, and clerks for Nazareth’s outlet store, require face-to-face interaction as well.

During the pandemic, that became undesirable for some. Ethridge said the agency has encouraged employees to get vaccinated, but concerns about breakthrough cases still prompted some employees to leave.

Burnout, Ethridge said, has been a factor in some employees leaving as well.

With less staff, Nazareth declined some referrals it received from the Rowan County Department of Social Services, which is looking to place children in their care.

“We serve children who need a stable, home-like environment where they can learn and grow,” said Vernon Walters Jr., president and CEO of Nazareth. “These children need counseling and proper medical and dental care and mental health care. Unfortunately, we just cannot admit anywhere near our capacity now.”

When Nazareth is forced to turn down a referral, it means the Department of Social Services must look elsewhere to place the child. But with other agencies dealing with staff deficiencies like Nazareth, options are limited.

“We’re not the only agency like us struggling with trying to find staff who have homes that are not open,” Ethridge said. “There are just not enough foster families in the community to serve those kids either. So, I think it’s very difficult for (the department of social services) to find those placements.”

Nazareth is having trouble finding staff members despite increasing its pay rate, offering benefits and a 401K. The company is offering a $500 sign-on bonus to new staff, too. Ethridge said most open positions at Nazareth only require applicants to have the equivalent of a high school diploma, with some college preferred. Training needed will be offered by the agency.

“Nazareth is a good, rewarding place to work,” Walters said. “Working with kids can be difficult in most any situation, but at the same time, when you turn a kid’s life around or reunite them with their family, it is rewarding.”

Other nonprofits may not be able to offer the same kind of incentives as Nazareth. Rowan County United Way Executive Director Jenny Lee said many nonprofits do not have the resources to compete against for-profit companies that have bolstered their offers since the pandemic began.

“A lot of times, our organizations can’t support a really healthy benefits package, and when people go into employment they evaluate the salary and benefits package,” Lee said. “There is definitely room for growth in being able to get our wage up to par with the for-profit sector.”

It’s especially difficult for nonprofits to offer competitive compensation, Lee said, after many have not been able to host fundraisers due to COVID-19.

Results from a survey conducted by the National Council of Nonprofits indicated that 79% of organizations identified salary competition as a factor preventing them from filling job openings. The survey collected responses from more than 1,000 nonprofits nationwide, including at least 50 from North Carolina.

The second biggest reason for staffing shortages, the survey indicates, is an inability for employees and potential employees to find child care.

David Heinen, vice president for public policy and advocacy for the NC Center for Nonprofits, said those factors have been exacerbated by a dearth of volunteers. Prior to the pandemic, Heinen said, volunteers provided the equivalent of 100,000 nonprofit positions to organizations in North Carolina. Since the pandemic started, many of those volunteers have not returned.

As a result, there remain more than 500,000 unfilled positions in the nonprofit sector in the U.S. attributed to the pandemic in one way or another, according to the National Council of Nonprofits.

“It’s definitely a trend that we are seeing that a lot of nonprofits are having staffing challenges,” Heinen said.

SHYAS CARES is another local nonprofit faced with a list of vacancies. Located at 907 S. Main St., the agency offers mentoring to at-risk youth, a re-entry program for people with a criminal record and counseling for those who have suffered from domestic violence and abuse.

LaTanya Hardy, founder of SHYAS CARES, said the agency is currently hiring for eight positions after having to let go of more than a dozen employees during the pandemic. SHYAS CARES is hiring for positions that require certain certifications, like peer support specialist, as well as positions that require little education.

More information about SHYAS CARES can be found at www.shyascares.com or by calling 704-603-8285.

More information about open positions both paid and volunteer at Nazareth can be found online at www.nazcfc.org/employment or by calling 704-279-5556.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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