This In-Person KC Business Thrived During COVID by Helping Its CommunityDavid Cawthon
As 2020 began, Patricia McCreary, founder of Margaret’s Place Adult Recreation and Wellness Center, was preparing to celebrate the facility’s fourth anniversary. By March, COVID-19 would threaten to bring down her business with little warning.
News reports in early 2020 focused on the virus infecting residents at senior living facilities in Washington state at an alarming rate. As the virus spread across the country in 2020, Patricia would become one of countless business owners facing devastating losses. Margaret’s Place was in a battle to survive the COVID-19 economy. Throughout the year, Patricia would use her company’s mission as a guide to rescue her business and help the community, while keeping an eye on the future.
Margaret’s Place, named after Patricia’s grandmother and created to improve the quality of life for older adults, was deemed an essential business and was not required to shut down. Patricia would have to weigh the risks of staying open versus closing her doors. On the one hand, she had her family and the livelihood of her employees to consider. More importantly, she had to think about the health and safety of staff and participants.
“I went back to the beginning and did some soul searching to recall why I opened Margaret’s Place in the first place,” she says. “I opened it for seniors and the disabled in the urban core to get back to living life. I also knew we have Margaret’s Place participants with weakened immune systems, so I made the decision to shut down for everyone’s safety.”
Patricia knows she made the right decision but adds, “It still petrified me.”
The search for funding and financing
She knew most small businesses don’t make it five years and that COVID-19 might end her dream despite four years of growth. Margaret’s Place went from serving a roster of 42 people Patricia calls “family” to 0. As soon as the center shut down, she began searching for loans, grants or any type of funding that would keep her business afloat during the pandemic.
Applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, or EIDL, which helped small businesses with operating expenses, were available immediately. Patricia also applied for Paycheck Protection Program loans. She was awarded both. As the search for funding continued, Patricia tapped into her network of a half dozen business owners who serve the urban core. The group informally shares information on a variety of business topics, and in early 2020, the text chain was filled with the latest information on new funding sources, celebrating when someone received a new loan or grant and discussions about how to manage other COVID-related issues.
Patricia secured enough funding to temporarily keep her business afloat, but she was also concerned about her Margaret’s Place family who depend on the center for food, wellness and companionship. Some of the participants depended upon the two daily meals and a snack they received at the center. Others live alone, and Margaret’s Place often was the only human interaction they had all day.
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Connecting her community
Patricia thought about why she started her business.
“It’s a part of our culture to help the people we call our family,” she says. “I knew our seniors needed us. I knew they were going to be hungry.”
And so, Patricia got work to keep her community connected. She started a hotline to assist her participants with food, medicine and cleaning supplies, including sanitizing wipes and Lysol—coveted items during the early days of the pandemic. Food and supplies were dropped on participants’ porches.
Soon, Patricia heard about others in the community who were in need and expanded the hotline to include them – an elderly neighbor, someone with a disability, low-income families and young students in need.
The community stepped up.
The nonprofit Our House of Greater Kansas City developed videos about the hotline to share in the community. City of Truth Church donated $1,000 for groceries, and many congregants volunteered to make deliveries. Sarpino’s Pizza provided 30 pizzas each week, Wings Café prepared 100 hot meals, and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield kitchen prepared meals twice a week. Hope House provided boxes of fresh produce, and United Believers Church made meals another two days a week.
“My husband, sister and I started making phone calls,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of rock star people in the community. I have a passion for helping people, and I’m a connector of people. I want Margaret’s Place to be a beacon in the community.”
Leveraging past business experience for the future
An entrepreneur since she was 19, Patricia had built solid business instincts, and programs like ScaleUP! KC provided a valuable new perspective. Rather than feel helpless, she says she viewed the pandemic as an opportunity and a problem to solve, which she took head on.
Patricia credits ScaleUP! KC for many of the connections she’s made along the way. ScaleUP! KC is a program administered by the UMKC Innovation Center that supports growth-oriented companies that have been in business at least two years, with a minimum $200,000 in revenue and two or more employees. What Patricia gained from the course helped her manage Margaret’s Place through the pandemic.
“I’m ScaleUP! KC’s No. 1 fan,” she says. “The program taught me how to think like a CEO—it shifted the way I thought. Everything I learned at ScaleUP! KC helped me pivot my business quickly. So, big kudos to ScaleUP! KC.”
A plan to forge forward amid adversity
Of course, not everything went without a hitch. Margaret’s Place reopened in May but only served about eight participants for much of the remainder of 2020. As the pandemic continued, the funding Patricia had secured ran out in October, forcing her to lay off staff. Other Margaret’s Place community efforts, including annual holiday campaigns, such as “adopt a senior” and “adopt a school,” which provided holiday gifts to seniors and to students of Citizens of the World Charter School, had fallen off from previous years. People didn’t have the money to donate.
But things are improving in early 2021. Eighteen Margaret’s Place participants and staff became fully vaccinated in early April, which will bring more family members back to the center. Patricia said many of them were afraid to leave their house without the vaccine. Some participants have returned to Margaret’s Place in wheelchairs, partly the result of not being active in the center’s movement classes for a year. Some of her family will never return to Margaret’s Place due to COVID-19 and being at home for a year.
The pandemic’s challenges lead to new opportunities for Margaret’s Place. Patricia purchased a van from a business that didn’t make it through the shutdown and grocery deliveries will continue for some members of the community.
Other ideas, including online adult day care were explored but placed on hold as Patricia works to resolve regulatory issues. Her big vision, Margaret’s Utopia, a 20-acre senior living facility and community, complete with a grocery store, is expected to move forward this year. Its vision is contained on a 10-foot roll of butcher paper hanging in the Margaret’s Place break room.
Patricia’s goal hasn’t changed from the first time she went to visit senior facilities with her grandmother Margaret. Patricia wants to change the way the industry looks at senior care and adopt healthier standards for cleanliness, staff-to-participant ratios, programming designed to increase the quality of life, and to make the facilities places where older adults can have fun and “get back to living.”
“The need to change geriatric care is so strong that even COVID-19 can’t stop it,” she says. “Elderly people are God’s original angels. Without them, none of us would be here. It’s up to us to take care of them with the same love and care they raised us with.”