Kathryn Kaycoff and Lauri de Brito both know that the surrogacy process is a journey.
The two struggled with their own issues of infertility before founding Agency for Surrogacy Solutions, Inc., an organization that works with surrogate mothers and intended parents and helps both parties through the process.
Both worked in television before starting the surrogacy business. But the new gig, they say, brings them more than just a paycheck.
“This isn’t just a job – it’s a calling,” said de Brito.
Since COVID-19, however, business has slowed down and many expecting surrogates and intended parents have faced challenges. The coronavirus has created restrictions in hospitals and made international travel difficult. Agency for Surrogacy Solutions, Inc. works with many clients outside of the United States.
The Los Angeles-based agency has struggled due to the pandemic.
“Just about everybody has been hit financially. Most people who go through surrogacy and egg donation are regular people. They’re not wealthy celebrities,” said de Brito. “They’ve been saving their entire lives and now suddenly everybody’s out of a job.”
The business is multi-faceted, too, involving medical, legal and psychological aspects for those involved. Kaycoff and de Brito rely on their 12 staff members to guide clients through the complex process.
(Kathryn Kaycoff and Lauri de Brito [center, front row] with with former and current clients in Israel last year)
COVID-19 has forced many intended parents and surrogates to put their surrogacy journey on hold. Kaycoff and de Brito applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan as soon as they heard about it.
The loan — $92,000 – was approved last month and allows Agency for Surrogacy Solutions, Inc. to keep their staff in place for a least a couple of months.
“It makes all the difference in the world to us,” said Kaycoff. “We can’t close – it’s not like I can call (a client) up and say, ‘Hey, I’m giving you your money back because we can’t fulfill your order of 100 t-shirts.’ No, there’s a baby on the way.”
Kaycoff and de Brito aren’t paying themselves right now to cut costs. The loan will allow them to keep as much of their staff in place as possible and business running as usual.
“We’re very fortunate that we’ve got a tight-knit group of employees who have become family to us,” said de Brito. “We don’t want them hurting; we love them.”
Northern Voices, a school for children who are deaf and hard of hearing in Roseville, Minnesota, has also adapted to a new normal since the coronavirus pandemic began. Like K-12 students around the state, Northern Voices program participants are staying home for the foreseeable future.
The organization is a nonprofit that works with children aged birth to five and usually works with roughly 30 kids per year.
“We chose to close our doors almost immediately following the public school districts’ closure policy,” said Northern Voices Executive Director Erin Loavenbruck.
Northern Voices has decided to waive tuition for parents during the closure and the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser of the year – a 5k race – would’ve taken place in early May if it weren’t for COVID-19. But the staff at Northern Voices also knew it couldn’t leave its program participants in the dark for an extended period of time.
(Sasha Moen of Northern Voices teaches a listening and spoken language session (LSL) via teletherapy to a toddler with hearing loss.)
In order to retain its nine staff members, the organization needed payroll dollars. The board decided to apply for a PPP loan of $65,000; it was approved in April.
“(The loan) has been able to help us continue to support the families and children through distance learning,” said Loavenbruck. “It allows us to pay for rent and utilities in addition to salary.”
Keeping Northern Voices staff lets its trained oral deaf education specialists provide individualized instruction and support for families at home. It’s also important to keep the kids engaged – lapses in learning can be detrimental to language development, especially in the birth-to-five group, said Loavenbruck.
Some parents of children enrolled at Northern Voices have donated to the nonprofit while it waives tuition. This kind of support, said Loavenbruck, is what keeps her hopeful during the pandemic.
“Families really feel that it’s worth keeping this little treasure in the Twin Cities,” she said.