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Art studio closed, counseling services and group homes adapt to stay-home orders

COURTESY PHOTO: ALBERTINA KERR - Clients of nonprofit Albertia Kerr enjoy a prepandeimic outing to Oaks Amusement Park. During the star-at-home orders, Kerr caregivers are getting creative, concoting other ways to have fun while staying safe.

Jeff Carr, chief executive of Albertina Kerr, chokes up on the phone discussing the dedication of his employees during this coronavirus emergency.

The nonprofit organization runs myriad programs for more than 700 people with disabilities and other issues and some of the 700 live in 55 group homes, including some on Kerr's Gresham campus.

Several employees staffing a residence for medically fragile people said they would stay and care for their clients no matter what, even if it meant separating from their families.

"We had some employees that told their families that if something happened, they would stay and sleep on the couch (in the group home). That's how much they care about their clients," Carr said.

"I get emotional just thinking about it," he said, taking a deep breath.

It hasn't come to that.

"The most important thing, is that as of today, we have had no employees or clients get the virus," he said Friday, April 24.

"We've been really fortunate," he said. "The staff has done a fantastic job."

Kerr instituted strict rules about visits, protective gear and cleaning.

They were forced to shutter the Portland Art and Learning Studios, an art center and gallery for adults experiencing intellectual disabilities. It serves about 100 clients and is staffed by 25 employees. Some of Kerr's employment programs were also closed for the duration of the pandemic.

COURTESY PHOTO: ALBERTINA KERR - Craig Jantze, Ben Knowles (Kerr program manager), Mike Mordecai, and dog Justice, hang out at home, before pandemic restrictions were put in place.

The employees staffing those programs were redeployed elsewhere in Kerr and the nonprofit has not had to lay anyone off, Carr said.

Kerr serves also serves children with mental health issues, both in a residential setting and as outpatients. The outpatient care has moved online to telehealth appointments.

Carr said Albertina Kerr's plans to build 150 affordable housing units on its Gresham campus at 162d Ave. between Glisan and Halsey are still on track. Groundbreaking was planned for the fall, but could be slightly delayed due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Like many other nonprofit organizations, Albertina Kerr has had to cancel some fundraising events due to the pandemic. The Rip City Race for the Roses scheduled for April 24 was scrubbed and that usually brings in about $50,000. Kerr gets some funding from the government because of the type of services it provides.

But so far, during the quarantine, Kerr has not had to dip into reserves, yet, Carr said.

And, the community has helped out. Crafters have sewn and donated hundreds of protective masks for employees and clients. Portland butcher and sandwich counter Tails & Trotters donated 200 pounds of smoked ham for Easter dinners for the group homes.

Everyone has a bit of cabin fever with the confinement that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic and Carr said residents of the group homes are no exception.

COURTESY PHOTO: ALBERTINA KERR - Some Albertina Kerr clients beautify the ground with flowers.

"We have some who are struggling," he said.

Residents are used to lots of field trips and events when they are not in school. But the staff has stepped up and found ways to make the quarantine a little less bleak.

One staff member found a recipe and assembled ingredients and the residents concocted homemade slime. Another home had residents outside washing the house van and some hijinks and water fights resulted. Residents in another home built planter boxes and plan to plant flowers.

And, Carr circles back around to Kerr employees.

"The staff is doing a great job and being very creative," Carr said.

"The nurses, doctors, CNAs (certified nursing assistants) fighting the coronavirus are true heroes. But you know, our folks are also heroes."


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