Cherokee Office of Economic Development · Cherokee by Choice.

Entrepreneurship Stories, Part 13: Stories of How Entrepreneurs in Cherokee County, GA are Adapting to COVID-19

May 15, 2020

COVID-19, or Coronavirus, is a global pandemic with regional and local impact from schools and hospitals to businesses and neighborhoods. It has impacted not only public health and rhythms of daily life but also our local, national, and global economies. And, the same is true from smalltown America to urban and suburban areas like Metro Atlanta; specifically, Cherokee County, Georgia (30 miles NW of Atlanta).

We reached out to some of the startups and entrepreneurs across all of Cherokee to find out how COVID-19 is impacting them and their business, how they are adapting and innovating, and how they are staying focused and finding hope through the chaos. We will share one or two stories each week of a different entrepreneur so their unique story will give you practical help and powerful hope to stay positive, be creative, and run and grow your startup business through their shared experiences.

After all, this epidemic is brand new and we are all figuring out as we go. We are stronger if we stick together in a community, regardless of the social distance between us or the shelter-in-place rules. Entrepreneurship is as old as the American spirit of rising above the valleys and climbing toward the summit one step at a time, together.

Entrepreneurship is as old as the American spirit of rising above the valleys and climbing toward the summit one step at a time, together.

This series is powered by Fresh Start Cherokee, the entrepreneurship initiative of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development (COED).


Story 13: In Harmony Pediatric Therapy

We talked to Co-owners Jennifer Puckett and Kristi Estes to share their stories and experiences these last eight weeks.

How has the COVID-19 situation impacted your business (positively or negatively)?

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Jennifer Puckett, Co-owner with her favorite office sign.
Jen: For music therapy, it has been difficult and a huge financial hit; we have had to stop music therapy sessions with groups, facilities, assisted living centers, and adult day programs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Music therapy is not covered by GA Medicaid like OT, SLP, and PT so we have had many families have to discontinue services due to job loss/financial burdens, and some of our music therapy patients are not telehealth appropriate, so they have had to pause services.

 

 

 

 

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Kristi Estes, Co-owner with her favorite office sign.

Kristi: The fear of COVID, prior to the closing of our office, had a huge financial and morale impact on our team and the business. The number of clients that were coming into our office dropped drastically, and my therapists’ schedules fell apart. We jumped into gear to get telehealth launched despite knowing nothing about it and having fears and reservations. Telehealth is one thing that kept us alive during this time. Parents, although skeptical, were willing to try it and ended up loving it! Therapists were able to resume many of their clients in this manner, resume their income, and my company was able to come back alive in a very short amount of time. We have not been up to the level we were at, but we are surviving. Additionally, the model of telehealth is one we can continue with and grow my business into that arena.

How have you and your business/team adapted/innovated to the situation?

We chose to close our clinic {In Harmony Pediatric Therapy} temporarily to patients in an abundance of caution. This was extremely scary as we weren’t sure what would happen and how telehealth would take off. Our team quickly and graciously trained virtually in telehealth options, platforms, and strategies. We had to learn what insurance companies would pay for what and how to change our billing. We worked to build online waivers for telehealth and establish platforms to meet the various needs of our patients. We added information to our websites www.inharmonypediatrictherapy.com and http://www.therabeat.com/telehealth and connected with patients to communicate strategies. The partnership Kristi and Jennifer have has been unbelievably strong as numerous hours have been spent encouraging, questioning, researching, and venting as needed. We are also constantly amazed at the creativity in our team.

How have you prepared and led your team/employees?

We have used ZOOM meetings to “see each other” and hold meetings to check in with people and make sure needs are being met. The SLACK app has been extremely helpful in organizing questions and strategies from the team. Our teams have an online folder that we save visuals/videos/therapeutic tools to utilize in our telehealth sessions. In addition, we have participated in telehealth trainings online to help expand our therapeutic strategies. Therabeat has been creative with strategies to help business and meet the needs of individuals quarantined at home with virtual music lessons: http://www.therabeat.com/virtual-lessons. From a financial standpoint, we both worked hard to apply for the PPP Loans to support our employees. We have acquired necessary and costly masks and laser thermometers for use as the clinic opens up. We are very thankful for the Webinars from the Cherokee Chamber and the Georgia Chamber as they have helped to provided much-needed information in an ever-changing environment.

What new things/perspectives (or old ones reinforced) have you learned about yourself, your business, and/or your community?

Jen: I have had to work to become more proficient with technology and find various ways to communicate. I continue to try to provide positivity to our team and encourage them all through this process.

Kristi: I have learned that the community comes together in times of need for sure, trying to help small businesses stay alive. No one wants to see those in their community fail. I have also learned that showing appreciation goes a long way. A small thank you can encourage a person to keep going. MY company couldn’t have survived without the willingness and passion of my team to help survive and for that, I am forever grateful. I have also learned that sometimes there is a beautiful rainbow of opportunity at the end of a storm and I hope my company can soar on that rainbow.

How have you stayed focused and positive?

Jen: I am so thankful for the support of my husband as he worked to keep our kids on track through digital learning while I worked from home and attended webinars. My faith has also helped me stay positive as the range of emotions flooded! My pastor preached on “Is your attitude Contagious and worth catching?” I can earnestly say that my team has been amazing! We have worked to encourage our team in a variety of ways while supporting them financially.

Kristi: I believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that things will be okay. I am forever grateful for the PPP funding to help with payroll and other expenses. The most powerful thing that has kept me going, however, is how much my therapists are enjoying the telehealth experiences and how parents have told me that being more involved in their child’s therapy has brought a whole new toolbox of ideas to them to use every day. Our clients are making huge strides which parents never thought possible.

What are some encouraging thoughts or stories you have heard that have kept you grounded?

While social media can be filled with negativity, it also houses many opportunities to serve others. We have been so inspired watching the support of the CCSD school lunch campaigns, the support for local restaurants, and seeing kindness showed to others who are hurting in this crisis. Yesterday, we had a mother of one of our patients call to donate money to help one of our music therapy patients that can no longer afford services.

How can we as a community best support you during this tough time?

Jen: 1. We can always use financial support to help our families affected continue music therapy services. 2. My heart hurts for our older adults in assisted living centers, and it would be wonderful if the facilities consider virtual music therapy sessions which have proven to be so beneficial for programs like Empower Cherokee. 3. Be kind.. many business owners are stressed and working to make the best decisions for our staff and patients. Help spread our services by sharing our social media posts! Follow us on Instagram and Facebook at @therabeat,inc. and @inharmonypediatrictherapy.

Kristi: Spreading the word of our business is the best way to support us at this time. With reopening, we need new clients through the door. We need to fill openings on schedules and get the therapists back on track so they, too, can pay their bills. Referrals are our best compliment.


Follow them on Instagram and Facebook at @therabeat,inc. and @inharmonypediatrictherapy or online at https://www.inharmonypediatrictherapy.com/.


Stay tuned for future stories as we continue to shed a light on local entrepreneurs from Waleska to Woodstock and in between to Ball Ground, Holly Springs, and Canton. We hope you are inspired by these stories and motivated to patronize and support them together.

Have ideas, questions, or stories? Reach out to us at cherokeega.org or emailing us directly at info@cherokeega.org.