After Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Monday announcement that the doors on churches, gyms, nail salons, and other public places had to close again to slow the spread of COVID-19, Jared Hergenrader spent part of his afternoon explaining to numerous callers why Break the Barriers in northeast Fresno remains open.
Hergenrader, the nonprofit’s CEO, acknowledges that the center provides classes that seem similar to those offered by gymnastics and dance studios, and health clubs. But it’s the other services offered, and the clientele served, that set Break the Barriers apart, he told GV Wire this week.
The nonprofit provides classes and programs to children and adults who have a range of physical and mental abilities, giving them the opportunity to participate in activities that they might not otherwise experience.
Water Safety Training Essential
It also provides water safety training that prospective adoptive parents need to complete before they can bring a new child home, Hergenrader said.
Recently, a parent came from San Jose to Break the Barriers for the mandatory water safety training. The Fresno center and one in Redding are the only two sites in California that provide it, he said.
Thousands Came Weekly Before Pandemic
Before the spreading pandemic led to statewide closures, Break the Barriers served 3,000 clients and saw a total of 10,000 people come through the doors weekly.
The center was serving 1,200 military veterans with free programs, but these days only about 70 come to the Cedar Avenue center. Many are Vietnam War-era, and their age puts them at risk of serious health complications if they are infected with the coronavirus.
Larry Rowe, 66, of Fresno says he feels safe at the center because of the safety protocols there.
The U.S. Navy veteran was at Break the Barriers on Tuesday morning to work out in the weight room. He said he comes five times a week for weightlifting, badminton, and table tennis, with Bible studies on Wednesday evenings.
Veterans Need Therapy, Fellowship
When the center closed in March, “it was horrible,” he said. “This place is awfully important to all us veterans.”
Veterans nationwide have struggled with mental health issues, with a large number of suicides since COVID-19 closures went into effect, Hergenrader said. Keeping Break the Barriers open is important for the sake of veterans as well as youngsters who need stability in their schedules, he said.
During the time the center was closed from March 16 to June 1, the staff underwent training on safety and sanitizing procedures and protocols, and the center was certified by the city of Fresno and Fresno County Public Health Department as an essential operation.
Safety Protocols Instituted
The center spent $17,000 for safety improvements, including temperature sensors for the front and back doors that automatically remind visitors who show unmasked faces to wear a mask.
Break the Barriers had to initiate scheduling for facilities like the weight room and the pool, limiting occupancy so people can be socially distanced appropriately.
Classes such as the Tuesday morning gymnastics end 15 minutes early so that staff can wipe down all “touched” surfaces with disinfectant, and laundry is done daily on washable items like towels and the aerial silks, Hergenrader said.
Parents attend gymnastics with their tiny tots to help them with maneuvers since staff can’t touch them now.
No Masks for Kids
In the Tuesday morning dance class, the youngsters remain distanced by staying atop marks on the floor. When it’s time for a water break, they take a knee while waiting for their name to be called, which keeps them from bunching up, Hergenrader said.
Children aren’t masked, but they practice social distancing by holding out their hands at full length as they walk to their next activity.
The staff and adult clientele all remain masked while indoors or just before entering or leaving the pool.
Revenues Are Down, Not Expenses
These days the vast rooms used for archery, boot camp workouts, dancing, and gymnastics are more sparsely attended — Hergenrader estimates that business is down by at least 50%, which has impacted the center’s revenue stream.
There were plans to enclose the outdoors pool where swim safety, water aerobics, and swimming classes are held so that it could be used year-round.
That plan now is on hold as Break the Barriers struggles with a vastly reduced income stream but no decrease in the $115,000 monthly bills — including $1,000 for water and $5,000 to $6,000 to Pacific Gas & Electric.
In addition to obtaining funds through the federal Paycheck Protection Program to keep the 80 staffers on the payroll, Break the Barriers has taken out a $150,000 Small Business Administration loan. Unlike the PPP funding, “we have to pay them back,” Hergendrader said.
In addition, he said he was in the process this week of finalizing a $500,000 bank loan.
An online fundraiser is scheduled for September, but Hergenrader said he doesn’t expect it or its silent auction will raise enough to cover expenses.
“We’re in a fight for our life,” he said.