January 25, 2022

Helping small businesses thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic

Kaiser Permanente grants are supporting businesses such as the Carefree Bar and Grill in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Cynthia Bickal, with her husband at their bar and grill, received help from the Energize Colorado Gap Fund, partially supported by a grant from Kaiser Permanente.

Cynthia Bickal grew up in the restaurant business, starting out as a busser in her teen years and moving up to server and bartender roles. Her mom had owned a bar and grill in Wisconsin, and her maternal grandmother owned one in California.

So, when Bickal and her husband moved from Iowa to Colorado, she knew that she wanted to serve some of her Native American tribe’s foods in a welcoming neighborhood bar and grill. She established Carefree Bar and Grill in Colorado Springs.

“I figured that we would continue what we’d been doing — being part of the restaurant business — but do it for ourselves,” said Bickal, who signed the lease for a building space in December 2019.

Then, the world shut down a few months later due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bickal found herself not only learning about the fees and licenses associated with owning a business, but also modifying plans due to mandated reduced restaurant capacity and navigating the complicated process of applying for grants.

Receiving help

Eventually, Bickal received assistance through the Energize Colorado Gap Fund, which is part of Energize Colorado, a public-private partnership that serves Colorado’s very small businesses, specifically rural businesses and businesses owned by women, veterans, and people of color.

With the help of a $1 million grant from Kaiser Permanente, Energize Colorado is using its Gap Fund to help some of Colorado’s small businesses — which employ 1.1 million people, accounting for 42.8% of the state’s workforce — get through challenging times. Since 2020, the Gap Fund has deployed nearly $27 million directly to small businesses in the forms of grants and low-interest loans. Additionally, Energize Colorado has used its Gap Fund to deliver technical assistance and loans to more than 45 businesses, and the organization plans to support more than 50 additional businesses in the first half of 2022.

Today, Bickal is grateful for the financial assistance and continues to adjust personal and business plans so that she can continue serving her Colorado Springs neighborhood and make connections within the community. “From speaking with Cynthia, I appreciate her resilience and continued fight to serve her community with a wonderful restaurant like Carefree Bar and Grill,” said Ryan Cobbins, program director for the Energize Colorado Gap Fund.

In addition to aiding small businesses like Carefree Bar and Grill through the Gap Fund, Energize Colorado is also using grant money received from Kaiser Permanente to help execute its Square Mile Program. The Square Mile Program aims to improve the economic outcomes in underserved communities in the Pueblo, Southwest Denver, and East Colfax corridor areas, as well as in the child care industry. The intent is to meet small-business owners where they are, helping them prepare for loan readiness and providing business mentorship and technical assistance while creating a community cohort of businesses that support one another. The Square Mile strategy is a top priority and initiative for 2022.

Additional community health grants

In the third quarter of 2021, Kaiser Permanente committed nearly $63 million in grant funding to organizations working to:

  • Boost COVID-19 vaccination rates by increasing access to and confidence in the vaccine with a focus on reaching faith-based Black and Latino communities
  • End homelessness by expanding the availability of affordable, permanent housing
  • Promote environmental stewardship in the health care industry by encouraging the adoption of sustainable and climate-smart solutions and helping the United States health sector become carbon neutral (meaning that for any carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere an equivalent amount is removed)
  • Support health and wellness initiatives in schools, with a focus on resilience and mental health programs

“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, community-based organizations are creating ways to serve businesses and community members,” said Stephanie Ledesma, interim senior vice president of community health programs for Kaiser Permanente. “Awarding grants to these organizations furthers our shared commitment to inclusive economic growth, which builds upon our long-standing commitment to supporting the social needs of our members and communities.”

Grants to community-based organizations are part of the contributions Kaiser Permanente makes throughout each year to improve the health of our communities. Kaiser Permanente also serves the community through a range of programs, including Medicaid, charitable health coverage, medical financial assistance, and medical research. Learn more about our commitment to community health.

Review California AB-1305 compliance disclosures on our greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts.