Text by Sue Burns



here is no shortage of words to describe 2020: unexpected…bizarre… scary…surreal…over-whelming…long…to sum it up, it’s been “A YEAR.”  Since February, the COVID-19 virus has surged through the country, bringing shutdowns, job losses, sheltering at home, a roller-coaster stock market and, now, distressing uncertainty about how we will celebrate the holidays.

Although things certainly look — and are — bleak on many levels, several positive words can also define the year if we broaden our focus: unity, teamwork, collaboration, innovation, generosity and what’s best described as a “stick-to-itiveness” that is ever-present in our community, especially during these unprecedented times.

Of course, the financial impacts are being felt nationwide and locally. Nonprofits and businesses have had to let people go and find ways do more work with fewer resources.

At Family Services of Tulare County, many services have been modified. Karen’s House, its domestic violence shelter, must be as safe as possible, and that has meant reducing capacity — a challenge when requests for services have increased 30%-40% over the last year. The Paycheck Protection Program helped keep people on staff until it expired in October, when a 5%-6% staff reduction was necessary.

Given that the agency is one of many locally that relies heavily on government funding, community donations and support are more critical than ever.

Creatively pivoting has been the name of the game for many nonprofits, including Family Services of Tulare County, which converted its annual Guest Chef Series into a major donation request, which was successful in replacing funds that would have been raised in person.

Agencies have also found ways to collaborate for the benefit of all. “We’ve had to think outside the box and have been overwhelmed by how the community has continued to step up, not just for our organization but for all the charities in our area,” Executive Director Caity Meader said. “This is a year that we’ve emphasized collaborations with other organizations, giving donors the opportunity to make an impact with whatever they are able to give.”

When it comes to local businesses, Visalia Chamber of Commerce CEO Gail Zurek said the pandemic has been a double-edged sword. There are clear signs of the impact that the virus has had, however some industries — chemical and professional cleaning companies, fast-food restaurants and grocery stores — are doing well. Consumers’ buying habits and patterns have changed, with reductions in demand as folks working at home aren’t stopping for coffee and gas or going out to lunch. Educating employees on how to stay safe, steps for safe consumer interfacing (plexiglass, floor markings for social distancing, extra deep cleaning) have increased costs. Restaurants have had to figure out how to keep outdoor areas cool in the summer and warm in the winter. And as virus infection rates have fluctuated, so have “COVID fatigue” and regulations.

Tourism has been affected, but the area is rebounding faster than other parts of the state, according to Nellie Freeborn, executive director of Visit Visalia. In February, prior to the travel advisories and shutdowns, staff and board members put several plans in place to market and encourage travel when permitted. Visalia has always been a big destination for in-state travel because of its proximity to Yosemite and Sequoia national parks, and in-state travelers jumped at the chance to travel locally starting in May.

“It’s undoubtedly an opportunity to be innovative. I’m extremely proud and in awe of how our businesses have worked to adapt and stay open to serve their clientele,” Zurek said.

When asked how Visalians can best support the community now, she advised three actions:

  1. Acknowledge the value and place of local businesses and nonprofits. They employ our neighbors. They anchor our community. Share positive feedback about the businesses on review websites and social media to encourage support.
  2. Be cognizant of how your personal spending habits have changed and how that may affect your support of local businesses and nonprofits. You can still make donations, purchase gift cards and pick up products to bring home. Recognize the innovations that local businesses created to enable you to continue to connect and engage with them. You can support critical services by donating cash, goods and products, and volunteering your time for local nonprofit agencies — here we offer information on just a few of them.
  3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do your best to exercise grace and understanding. If you’re having a hard day, chances are that someone else — perhaps the person you’re working with at your local business — is having one as well. Like you, they have many thoughts, emotions and frustrations, and are doing their best to take care of their families.

Grace and understanding — two little things that, when shared, can heal us all in so many ways.



  • hnconline.org
  • facebook.com/HandsInTheCommunity
  • IG: @handsinthecommunity
  • (559)-625-3822

What do you do in/offer to the community?

Hands in the Community (HNC) of Tulare, Kings and lower Fresno counties is a volunteer-driven organization that serves those in need. Its objective is to assist people in becoming self-sufficient and, more specifically, strengthen the ability of individuals and families to care for themselves. It assists clients through its volunteers and groups, along with providing access to other services to improve care and well-being. The majority of those served are children, families, disabled, at-risk youth and elderly; all fall below the poverty line.

How can people help support your cause?

Individuals can volunteer time in the HNC office or meet a variety of client requests for transportation, household repairs and general support. Small groups can complete yard work or yard cleanups for disabled or elderly clients. Larger groups, such as the Kiwanis Club, can assist with major home improvements such as painting, fencing or ramp construction. HNC collaborates with businesses and community groups each year to adopt families and/or individuals for holiday baskets and gifts. HNC uses financial support to buy the materials to build ramps, replace fences, repair household items, parts for appliances/heaters, etc.



  • loveincoftularecounty.com
  • facebook.com/LoveINCTulareCounty
  • What do you do in/offer to the community?

We are here! We are celebrating serving Tulare County for 30 years. Love in the Name of Christ bridges the churches to meet the needs in Tulare County with things like food, clothing, beds, furniture, counseling, etc. We also offer community service opportunities.

How can people help support your cause?

Physical donations can be dropped off at our thrift store at 316 E. Kern Ave., Tulare. For large items, call (559) 733-8870 for pickup. Monetary donations may be sent to Love INC, P.O. Box 6074, Visalia, CA 93290 or PayPal @loveinthenameofchrist@yahoo.com.



  • tmicounseling.com
  • (559) 738-0700

What do you do in/offer to the community?

Trinity Ministries (TMI) has been providing counseling and resources to the community since 1993. We also train new therapists in their licensing process.

How can people help support your cause?

People can help our organization with charitable contributions used for scholarships to families and individuals who are not insured or underinsured.



  • fstc.net

What do you do in/offer to the community?

Family Services helps children, adults and families heal from violence and thrive in healthy relationships. Our programs include Visalia’s only emergency domestic violence shelter, the Rape Crisis Center, Freedom House for survivors of human trafficking and youth at-risk, supportive housing, counseling, parenting classes and more.

How can people help support your cause?

Community members can make a tax-deductible year-end gift at fstc.net or by texting “family” to 56651. You can also visit fstc.net/santa for information about donating holiday gifts for the children we serve between now and Dec. 11.



  • cvhonorflight.org
  • facebook.com/CentralValleyHonorFlight
  • IG: @cvhonorflight

What do you do in/offer the community?

Central Valley Honor Flight recognizes American veterans for their sacrifices and achievements by sending them to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorial at no cost.

How can people help support your cause?

Our website has links for veterans and guardians to submit applications, and also for people to donate to this all-volunteer organization.



  • stint.com
  • facebook.com/studentsinternational
  • IG: @studentsintl

What do you do in/offer to the community?

Students International in Visalia does long-term, ongoing community development in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Nicaragua through full-time staff missionaries serving in those countries. In addition, participants join our missionaries on short-term outreaches, semester programs, a gap year program and internships throughout the year.

How can people help support your cause?

We would love to have you join us in the field, but if you are unable to, there are many ways to get involved and support the ministry of Students International financially. Your financial support helps us to continue fulfilling our vision of seeing students and the people of the communities transformed into the likeness of Christ and discover their true calling.




  • (254) 913-1354 (C.J., chief of staff)
  • cjcantu@acvhope.org

What do you do in/offer to the community?

A Combat Veteran’s Hope in Visalia is here to empower and engage with combat veterans of all generations and ensure that they successfully integrate back into their communities.

How can people help support your cause?

Folks who wish to support us can visit our website, acvhope.org, and click the donate link. We have extremely limited overhead and our staff members are volunteers. Every dollar donated to ACVH stays locally and is used for our many programs for our Warfighters (members) and their families.



  • vrmhope.org
  • facebook.com/VRMHOPE
  • IG: @vrmhope
  • (559) 740-4178

What do you do in/offer to the community?

Visalia Rescue Mission is a nonprofit organization that serves the poor and those in need in Central California with the love and power of the gospel of Christ, so they may become God-dependent and contributing members of this community. Our ministries include Life Change Academy; housing, employment and health services; food pantry; community kitchen meals and overnight shelters for men as well as women and children.

How can people help support your cause?

Anyone can partner with us in a variety of ways from volunteering time, donating supplies or giving financially. Please visit our website for more information.




  • imagineumuseum.org
  • facebook.com/ImagineUMuseum
  • (559) 733-5975
  • Kyoung@imagineumuseum.org

What do you do in/offer the community?

ImagineU Children’s Museum is a nonprofit, hands-on interactive children’s museum. ImagineU provides imagination, inspiration and exploration through the power of play. It has been scientifically proven that play increases social skills, vocabulary, independence, creativity and overall well-being. “Never under-estimate the importance of having fun!”

How can people help support your cause?

ImagineU has a million reasons for you to give because it takes close to $1 million a year to run the museum. We invite you to become part of our legacy by supporting our A Million Reasons to Give campaign. Your support will help open our doors, hire new staff and turn the lights on. Click here to be a part of the million reasons to imagine, explore and learn at ImagineU: one.bidpal.net/amillionreasons/browse/all.



  • vccoc.org
  • facebook.com/CRVisaliaCommunityCOC
  • (559) 723-4777 (call or text); (559) 734-4833 (calls only)

What do you do in/offer to the community?

Celebrate Recovery (CR) at Visalia Community Church is Christ-based 12-step recovery program helping others in Visalia and surrounding communities overcome hurts, hang-ups and habits. Only one in three people who attend CR go for drug and alcohol addiction, and CR also helps people find freedom from things like overeating (food issues), divorce, grief, relationship issues, overspending, anger, resentment and more. Celebrate Recovery is a nationally recognized Christ-based recovery group.

How can people help support your cause?

Donations can be made to Visalia Community Church of Christ-Celebrate Recovery through the church office at 3838 S. Court St., Visalia; by calling (559) 734-4833, or by using the donate link on the church website at vccoc.org (must specify for Celebrate Recovery). Donations may also be made in person at the Friday night meetings starting at 6 p.m.