It would be an understatement to stay that 2020 did not go ‘according to plan.’ But just like we teach in the field: resiliency, teamwork, and support from those around us makes it possible to solve even the biggest challenges.
From March to mid-May, the program and leadership teams worked through several scenarios for summer programming both internally and in coordination with other Outward Bound schools, Outward Bound USA, and various committees of the COBS board. The difficult decision was made in May to cancel all summer programming. Proceeding posed too great a risk to students, staff, and the school. This is the first time since our founding in 1961 that we were unable to run summer courses.
With the cancellation of summer programming, COBS lost nearly 80% of planned revenue. This shortfall was made up with $2.5M in expense cuts (many expenses were not incurred based on not offering programs), furloughs and layoffs that put the school into a ‘hibernation mode’ except for essential functions; $1M in restricted funds that have been unrestricted with donor permission; and a $513,400 PPP loan. This strategy for hibernation allowed the school to run selected courses this fall and beyond, but eliminated non-critical overhead.
Coming up with a plan to run programming in the fall was an incredible victory for the year.
Without our incredible donors, students and families, staff, and many others, it wouldn't have been possible to navigate this spring. Stay at home orders were on and there was a lot of uncertainty as to what the rest of 2020 would hold. 195 supporters helped raise more than $123,000 for the school. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
With a lot of thoughtfulness, guidance, and problem solving, we piloted our COVID protocols in the field this fall. We were able to run six courses (all 30 days or longer) and served 59 students. This longer format allowed us to create ‘family’ units where, after an initial testing, waiting, and social distancing period, students could interact with one another and learn without wearing masks, like we would before. A huge shout out to our staff and students for their incredible motivation, love of learning, and willingness to do something bigger than themselves this year. It was such a gift to be able to serve students after all.
Wow! Let’s hear it for our community! We look forward to our Black Tie and Tennis Shoes gala every year to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, and most importantly, hear from students. When gathering in person wasn’t possible this year, our community stepped up. Your support was above and beyond.
More than 470 donations were made and more than $260,000 was raised this year. To those who supported their friends and board members, thank you. To those who participated in the adventure auction or gear auction, thank you. To everyone who made it possible to run our fall courses safely and gave our team the resources to do it, thank YOU! You created such a special and unique opportunity for youth this fall.
Shout out to our sponsors and other champions here.
Even when the going is hard – like climbing a pass with a full pack or getting up extra early for a big summit attempt – there is always a view to look at and gratitude to be had. Through the challenges this year, we had some great bright spots.
Virtual training. Our program teams pivoted fast and were able to deliver a slate of virtual trainings to our staff this summer about facilitation, mental health, and other educational practices. This model is already proving useful as we look ahead at our 2021 staff training.
Educational listening sessions. We are so grateful to the more than 30 community members and educators in Colorado who participated virtually and shared their perspectives on some of the challenges youth are facing (especially during the pandemic) and opportunities to bring us together to learn and grow. We are excited to take this and keep building towards deeper partnerships, especially in 2022, here in Colorado.
Paycheck Protection Program. We were lucky to receive funds from the first round of PPP funding, allowing us to train our staff and keep folks employed through the spring and part of the summer. It gave the school some much needed flexibility during a hard time.
Stories from the field. The behind-the-scenes work isn't always glamorous, but building processes makes a huge difference in the student (and parent!) experience. Our students and instructors took some great photos and shared fun stories and thanks to technology improvements, we were able to share them more regularly from the field. We're making great strides in streamlining our communication and creating systems to share more. The work (and fun) continues in 2021.
Strategic plan. Our team took advantage of the down-time to recenter around our goals and aspirations for the future of the school. Understanding that the events of 2020 will have a long tail, we developed a plan to double-down on key priorities that will ensure an even stronger student, family, and staff experience in the years ahead.
While 2020 challenged our resilience in unprecedented ways, when we think about the future of COBS -- and the world -- stories like this affirm we're still on the right track:
Thank you -- each of you -- for continuing to believe in us and in students like Mason.