I’ve been a homeschool mom since 2010, and I’m the founder of The Dr. Annise Mabry Foundation. I also operate Tiers Free Academy—Georgia’s only nonprofit alternative high school diploma program for homeless LGBTQ youth, sex trafficking survivors, and high school dropouts.

We have an annual fundraiser called Drag for Diplomas, hosted by the Atlanta and Athens drag community at My Sister’s Room to raise funds for our Thrive with Pride program. Each student who graduates from the program gets an opportunity to apply for a $150 scholarship.

My diploma program went from

enrolling four or five students each month to 10 students a week as COVID-19 hit. People who had been enrolled in GED programs weren’t able to take their tests because they must be taken in person.

The demand for my program increased, but my funding from corporate partners and private donors disappeared.

When the City of Atlanta issued its shelter-in-place order, I lost 20 monthly donors overnight. When I reached out to the performers, they responded with, “We’ll just move it online.” So, we did. Thanks to Atlanta Pride Committee which provided us with access to Crown Media Group, we became the first nonprofit to transition to an online drag show. Living rooms and hallways became stages, and I watched my community do what we have always done: show up.

As I watched all high school graduation ceremonies get canceled, my foundation made the decision to open up our graduation ceremony to any public school senior who wasn’t getting a ceremony. Our graduating class needs this. We are showing up, because that is what we as a community do.

Yesterday, I did my first COVID-19 payroll. Everyone on our payroll is an independent contractor, and my foundation made the decision to keep every contractor on payroll at a monthly rate. I applied for the SBA Payroll Protection Program, but received conflicting information regarding whether I could or couldn’t count these contractors in our total employee payroll head count.

Sometimes this just feels so heavy. Sometimes I can pull myself out of my funk. Yesterday I couldn’t. But then my community showed up; they made connections for me to the Georgia Center for Nonprofits and through their own personal relationships with the SBA. I still felt heavy, but I didn’t feel so alone.

I always tell my students, “If Plan A doesn’t work, don’t stop. There are 26 letters in the alphabet. Pivot and shift.” So, here’s to my community for holding me so tightly in their arms as those silent tears rolled down my face yesterday. Here’s to living the pivot and shift. COVID-19 killed our way of life, but it also rebirthed my community.

We have a PayPal fundraiser going right now to help us with all the unexpected costs and losses that COVID-19 created for us: paypal.com/us/fundraiser/charity/216979

If you know a public school senior who wants to participate in the 2020 Graduation Ceremony, complete this quick Operation Graduation information sheet: forms.gle/YnNwrBNHdNTpiCqEA

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