CREATE-a-Beat forced to close doors due to COVID-19 struggles

Photo from CREATE-a-Beat Facebook Page. Elexa Rodriguez and Madison Howard display some of their chalkwork from earlier this summer at CREATE-a-Beat..

John Lee

As businesses are continually forced to close doors due to COVID-19 across the United States, it can now also claim CREATE-a-Beat as it’s latest victim.

Executive director Julie Long said the program tried its best to stay afloat as the virus waged war on families and forced furloughs and lay-offs, but they can’t continue to operate in the red.

“When all of this started in March, we decided as a board to provide services not just after school now, but all day (like in the summer) the week after spring break,” Long said. “A lot of our parents were out of work so we decided to just charge our after-school rate and not our summer rate, which has a pretty significant difference because I have to pay staff for all day.”

Hoping this was a short-term issue, the program continued to lose money from March through May. Eventually, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services released a new student-to-staff ratio, decreasing from 26-to-1 to 10-to-1.

“That’s a 65 percent decrease in the amount of children which means a 65 percent decrease in income,” Long said. “But I had to have the same amount of staff. My staff cost didn’t go down, but my income did. We just kept thinking we could hold out and get through this, but when you get to almost a $16,000 deficit, you have to say you can’t do this.”

Long looked at a number of grants and outside funding related to COVID-19, but many either weren’t for non-profits or they wouldn’t be able to pay back the borrowed funds.

The logistics surrounding transportation is another caveat in the decision as Panhandle Transit was used as the means to bring students to the program during the school year.

“Panhandle Transit has been waiting on an answer from the schools on what they’re going to do and we were waiting on the schools for registration,” Long said. “We still don’t know what school’s going to look like. TEA hasn’t made their announcements yet.”

After 18 years of serving the community and housed at Hi-Land Christian Church, this has forced CAB to permanently close their doors on Aug. 13.

Long said many of the parents are understanding as the program didn’t come to this decision easy.

“All of them have been very understanding,” Long said. “A lot of them are sad, my staff is just really sad. This had been my dream for so long, but it’s the right decision to do this. There’s too much uncertainty and we can’t keep operating at a loss.”

CAB has impacted two to three generations of students and more than 2,000 kids.

“I have staff that is here working for me that came when they were kids,” Long said. “I have kids who are coming whose parents worked for me and parents who came here bringing their kids here.

During their peak years, CAB provided after-school education for around 200 kids and even in most recent years still provided a safe place for 70 to 80 children.

“It’s not just the kids affected,” Long said. “I’ve hired high school students. Briana Montgomery (choir director at Pampa High School) was one of my very first high school employees. We have kids that grew up in this program that are teachers in the schools now.”

CAB will be hosting a Goodbye Party at Pampa H2O Aquatic Center at 7:30 p.m. on July 31. 

Long couldn’t thank the community enough for their support over the last 18 years.

“They’ve been really good to us,” Long said. “There’s so many people that have given their time, their money and everything to us. 

“On my board of directors there are four people who have been on the board since the beginning in 2003. They’ve been there through everything. We’ve been through an economic crisis and a fire but we couldn’t beat COVID.”

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