New CEO helps Options For All Navigate COVID-19

By Graham Womack

With his 50th birthday approaching, Ken Barnes opted for something different in his career.

He never knew it would be this different. On February 3, Barnes became chief executive officer of Options For All (OFA), a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps disabled adults. Around the same time, coronavirus case numbers began to spike in California, leading to Governor Newsom issuing a statewide stay-at-home order on March 17.

“Right now, more than half of the service providers across the state are just shut down,” Barnes shared with GB Magazine. “Many organizations said, ‘we provide our services in person. There’s nothing we can do.’ We decided to take a different tact.” Through the leadership of Barnes, who had volunteered with OFA for six years, his organization has pivoted rapidly and successfully. To date, it has had no layoffs of its 414-employee staff, met payroll obligations, and has been providing virtual services to 1,400 clients.

“It didn’t seem rational to me and my leadership team that there would be one case here and then maybe just two and everything is fine,” Barnes said. “Something didn’t feel right. We thought, ‘What’s the worst-case scenario if we start prepping remote services.’” This was no easy feat. Aside from an increased number of people for OFA to serve, clients span the disability spectrum. Some do better with virtual engagement activities than others, and OFA has had to modify activity times accordingly.

“Different persons can handle different amounts of engaged time,” Barnes said.

It has also been challenging to help OFA clients still working in essential jobs, including at grocery stores, pharmacies, and health care clinics. “It is no longer ensuring that they know how to do their job, communicate with their supervisor, and remain successful and integrated in their work site,” said Myles Horttor, Chief Program Officer for OFA. “It has become: ‘Do you know what is now expected of you? Do you know the new regulations? How do you keep yourself safe during this crisis?’”

“Ken is an energetic guy,” Horttor said. “He is a visionary that wants to have long chats and discussions, and I think he’s done a good job of surrounding himself with a team to make that happen.” Set to turn 50 on June 14, Barnes is settling into his Kensington home with his wife Angela, an attorney. They moved for the job from Barnes’ native Sacramento. Their faith continues to help them pull through the pandemic. “The one thing for me that has been helpful is knowing that, even if you do not believe in the Bible from a faith perspective, from a pure literature perspective there is a series of events that happen and what you learn is that they pass,” Barnes said. “This too is gonna pass.”

www.optionsforall.org