Community

Nonprofit Success Story: Columbus Community Center

Thanks to a Paycheck Protection Program loan from Zions Bank, this Salt Lake City organization found ways to support its medically fragile clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heidi Prokop Jul 17, 2020

Columbus Community Center is a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit that serves individuals with disabilities through housing, employment, training and day activities.

CEO Kristy Chambers says they are “social entrepreneurs,” employing over 110 individuals with disabilities to assist with tasks including paper shredding, grounds maintenance and custodial services.

“We provide hope, we provide dignity, we provide respect for all of our clients in a way that makes the world a better place,” she says. “We believe people of all abilities have the capability of contributing to our economy.”

Chambers says before the pandemic, the outlook for Columbus Community Center was hopeful. 

Kristy Chambers of Columbus Community Center
Kristy Chambers

“Unemployment being low provided an opportunity we hadn’t seen in many, many years,” she explains. “We were looking to 2020 as being a really formative year of more inclusion and more integration in the workforce.”

But when the coronavirus hit in mid-March, different lines of business began to dwindle. The organization was making plans to furlough 20 members of it 250-person workforce on April 2, but the opportunity for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through Zions Bank gave them a lifeline.

“We have 110 clients who are our employees and in their being employed with us there are benefits they receive, a paycheck that allows them to pay their rent, allows them to live integrated in their community,” she says. “If we had not been able to pay them, our ability to support their independence would not have been possible.”

Chambers says the loan gave them the ability to preserve their workforce and innovate and adapt in creative ways.

The center’s residential day activity program disbanded, as many of its clients are medically fragile. But staff supporting it were redirected to help prepare one of the organization’s warehouses for sale or a potential emergency overflow facility.

Employees have also been able to continue supporting disabled clients as they apply for unemployment. Staff working on the Columbus Connects program, which provides job exploration services to younger adults, have been able to continue maintaining billable hours by reaching out to employers through telecommuting and teleconferencing.

“I want to thank Zions Bank and our banker Chris Penman, who was very responsive throughout the loan process,” Chambers said. “We had the benefit of having a relationship with Zions Bank in advance. We had two board members that came from Zions that have been incredibly supportive of our agency for the last four years.”

Looking to the future, Chambers is cautiously optimistic. “As the economy recovers, we’re going to recover right along with it,” she says. “I doubt it’ll be a light switch. I think it’ll be about two years before we can return to the capacity we had before COVID.”

She emphasizes that nonprofits are the safety net of local communities and need to be supported.

“Now, more than ever, we need advocacy,” she says. “Civil rights around people with disabilities need to move forward not backward.”

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Heidi Prokop is senior vice president and Communications manager for Zions Bank.

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