When the board of directors of Pro Action of Steuben and Yates, Inc. gathered for their monthly meeting at the organization’s offices in Bath, New York on February 18, 2020, they had no idea that it would be the last time they would sit in the same room for over half a year. Fortunately, CEO Laura Rossman had been keeping an eye on the news and was concerned about the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which had been declared a national emergency just days earlier. With the story developing at breakneck speed, she thought it was time for the board to consider Pro Action’s options for adjusting its policies and operations during a pandemic.
The process began with dusting off the agency’s contingency plan, but it certainly didn’t end there. Like countless other Community Action Agencies (CAAs) across the country that have adjusted their operations in light of COVID-19, Pro Action had to consider the unique needs and issues of the area it serves. Over the ensuing months, Laura and the board revised other policies and adopted new practices that allowed them to continue helping the low-income population in their community.
CAPLAW and the National Community Action Partnership have put together this case study to discuss some of the ways that Pro Action has adapted, which we hope will inspire and encourage other CAAs considering similar measures. In addition to describing some specific changes the agency made, we identify key aspects of Pro Action’s governance practices that allowed it to respond efficiently and effectively to the COVID-19 emergency. Together, these highlights demonstrate how a CAA’s organizational capacity and culture of good governance equip its leaders to better navigate the transition into a new phase of operations and mitigate the impact of an unexpected hardship.