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Howard’s Web: Covid-19 Cannot Destroy Howard Center’s Extensive Web Of Services And Help

11/24/2020 05:41PM ● By Jay Murry

When E.B. White published his children’s novel Charlotte’s Web in 1952, he probably didn’t realize that his classic literary work would serve as a metaphor 68 years later during a worldwide pandemic. But just as Charlotte the spider innovatively used her web to save the life of her friend Wilbur the pig, Howard Center has used nimble creativity to extend its web of delivering mental health services during the ongoing threat presented by COVID-19.

Howard Center’s Lifesaving Web

Howard Center traces the first strands of its public service web back to 1865. Its origin was in the form of the Home for Destitute Children, founded to give widows and children orphaned during the Civil War a place to call home.

Let’s fast-forward to 2020. Howard Center now has a web of services and programs that stretches for miles. Charlotte McCorkel, Senior Director of Client Services, says Howard Center now is a large social service agency. She elaborates that it “serves children, adults, families, and communities as the provider for mental health, substance use, and developmental services in Chittenden County.”

Not only does Howard Center’s web of services stretch across more than just one aspect of mental and physical well-being, Charlotte adds that the web extends along the continuum of life. “We provide support and services to children and families starting with early childhood programs and then through adolescence and adulthood and through elder care as well.” She adds that extensive range of services requires a specialized staff of 1,600 strong, spread across 60-plus Howard Center sites including 22 residential programs, four independent therapeutic schools, and many clinics and outpatient sites that provide short-term and long-term help. Charlotte also mentions that Howard Center staff is “embedded in almost every school in Chittenden County and works with law enforcement, medical providers, and in partnership with many other agencies.” 

She continues, “That web is really important, because often people aren’t just struggling with one challenge. They may have a mental health diagnosis but also have a struggle with addiction. Or they may have a developmental disability and a mental health diagnosis. So it’s really important that the web of support exists so we can meet the needs of the whole person.”

The existence of this strong yet delicate web was put to the test by the arrival of a new and dangerous virus.

The COVID-19 Challenge

In Charlotte’s Web, Charlotte the spider took action when it appeared that she might lose her friend to an outside threat. The staff members of “Howard’s Web” likewise acted quickly and decisively when COVID-19 threatened to stop the services provided by Howard Center.

In particular, Howard Center’s Charlotte says when the effects of the virus began to be felt in mid-March, the challenge was to keep clients and staff as safe as possible while continuing essential services so the needs of the community could be met. Some of the staff immediately started working from home and providing services through telehealth. For office visits, Plexiglas was installed and masks were ordered. Regarding face-to-face programs in residential and crisis settings, clients and staff were provided with proper personal protective equipment and other safety measures so that people could be as safe as possible while essential services were provided.

COVID-19 produced a heightened frontline responder reaction among all staff members at the beginning of the pandemic. Dan Hall, Director of Outpatient Services at Howard Center, says once it was apparent that COVID-19 was going to be around for a while, his outpatient staff “very quickly transitioned to telehealth and remote services.” Dan adds that it didn’t take long to see the advantages of having more virtual meetings. “I think outpatient services are more conducive to that, so within a week or two of that transition, everything was done via telehealth with Zoom being the virtual meeting platform. We worked to reach out and engage our existing clients and then we began to add new folks.” 

If Howard Center efforts to succeed and thrive in spite of COVID-19 could be distilled down to one word, it would be “pivot.” Charlotte says, “Being able to pivot as quickly as possible from face-to-face services, to telehealth, to office-based work, and to home-based work—it’s been really critical for us to act fast.” The new strands of adaptation have bolstered Howard’s Web, enabling it to withstand further challenges in the future.

“Help is Here.” Always.

The most important strand of Howard’s Web is the motto of Howard Center, “Help is Here.” Even in the midst of the pandemic, those who need help can call (802) 488-6000, or Howard Center’s 24-7 crisis service, First Call for Chittenden County, at (802) 488-7777. Charlotte points out that Howard Center is accessible to all parts of the community, and a recent development will help reach those who have been underserved. “Howard Center has joined Burlington and other partners to declare racism as a public health emergency. We know that there are health disparities that are faced by Black and Indigenous people of color, and Howard Center has been committed to reaching underserved populations for a number of years.” By declaring that emergency, she hopes Howard Center will reach even more people who are in need of services that can help them. To further that aim of reaching more people, Charlotte notes that Howard Center recently hosted a free and open to the public educational speaker series in recognition of World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2020. 

To finish the metaphorical comparison between the book Charlotte’s Web and Howard Center, consider this quote from the book. “A spider’s web is stronger than it looks. Although it is made of thin delicate strands, the web is not easily broken.” In the ongoing pandemic, and thanks to its dedicated staff, “Howard’s Web” at Howard Center remains sturdy, supportive, and unbroken.

Howard Center
208 Flynn Avenue, Suite 3J
Burlington, VT
(802) 488-6000
CRISIS: Need Help Now (802) 488-7777
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