Responding with Resilience: Reflections from Local Nonprofits on the Impact of COVID-19
~Suzy Pukys, Georgetown Health Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org
As a local philanthropy whose mission is “to generate and accelerate positive change in our community’s health,” Georgetown Health Foundation (GHF) works to help the helpers. We see the difference they make for people who need food, housing, healthcare, education, employment, transportation, and childcare. We invest in opportunities to strengthen and scale their work to serve more people, better.
In spring 2020, when the pandemic forced its way into all of our lives, nonprofits rushed to adapt their work to keep serving this community. GHF also moved quickly to provide flexible funding to our nonprofit grant partners, aiming to support their clients as well as the organizations themselves as they suffered a range of financial blows: shuttering revenue-producing programs, suspending volunteer help, and cancelling fundraising events. These challenges were exacerbated by the additional stressors brought by COVID that all businesses were experiencing: employee quarantines, remote work, and the ongoing tug-of-war between staying safe and staying connected.
Through our 2020-21 annual, strategic, and COVID Relief funding, GHF distributed over $1.7 million to 28 organizations serving Georgetown and Williamson County. We asked them to reflect upon their work over the last several months. Overwhelmingly, the narrative that emerged was one of resilience. GHF is honored to shine a light on some of their stories. The reflection below comes directly from a piece written by Cat Phelps, the formidable leader of our local Y.
Spotlight: Words of Wisdom from Cat Phelps, Georgetown Family YMCA Extension Director
When I think back on 2020, I am instantly reminded of so many milestones and hurdles. Milestones like opening a COVID Child Care Space, One Room School House, Summer Camp, teaching children to swim, driving the Y on the Fly bus every week to the parking lot of Head Start, and sometimes just showing up for our community in unique spaces. The hurdles are just as many – do we have PPE, masking, ratios, Zoom, communication to parents, budget? How do we teach children to be superheroes in a parking lot? Who needs help? Can we survive with so little staff? The items I just shared have so many layers. It’s the layers and complexity of 2020 that I will carry with me for years to come.
This past year we have worked tirelessly to be a positive change maker for all the children and families we serve. Like many, we are tired. But, we won’t stop. Our nonprofit leaders have not been tested in community crisis like this before. Be it worried for your own job, your staff, or helping the parent who just needs you so they can get back to work – the look of “we got you” and “I know” that was shared with people above our masks is enough to break a person. The reality was that we knew we could help, but we also needed as much grace as possible to navigate it as well.
GHF challenged me to think back on best practices and lessons learned through this pandemic. My mind went to all the scrambling, crashing budgets, furloughed staff, wondering if another family would ever come to the Y. I allowed my thoughts to dive into logistics planning, communication, readiness, collaboration, etc. However, my heart was pulling towards a different message. These three themes would be the three things I would want to share with the next generation who will face the next crisis.
1. BE A PARTNER TO ALL, AVOID BEING AN ISLAND AT ALL COSTS
When organizations put themselves on islands, they lose all hope of their community being able to toss them a life raft when they need it most. During the pandemic and past year, I watched dear groups become paralyzed with not knowing. This not knowing led to can’t do, led to no money, and now sadly, many no longer exist. When we collaborate and support each other, we can help those frozen see they have a hand or a cheerleader. We all need a cheerleader at times and we all must be someone’s cheerleader – even one that may view you as a competitor. The community helped us, and we tried to help others with best practices and lessons learned. We shared the playbook with anyone who needed it, regardless if the next page was still blank.
2. RETURN TO YOUR STRENGTHS WHEN FEAR OF CHANGE IS OVERWHELMING
When you just don’t know what will happen next, saying that statement of “I don’t know” is an echoing voice that a leader never wants to say. Will this really be over in two weeks? Will the kids really go back to school? Do we know how to teach virtually? We would find ourselves so overwhelmed with “I don’t know” that we would have to force ourselves back to our strengths. I was a basketball player. We have a hoop and a ball. I would play PIG with campers, and it would remove the weight. It would create clarity to dream and become innovative. While the burden and fear were there, we would focus on cleaning something better, perfecting Zoom backgrounds, making friendship bracelets, forcing ourselves to fall in love with the programming and try to leave the uncertainty of the outside world there – outside. We all find ourselves struggling with this both personally and professionally. 2020 challenged us all on both fronts.
3. YOU ARE NOW A BULLET POINT. WHAT WILL IT SAY?
YMCA history is so vast. We have bullet points that highlight over 175 years of mission-based service. Some of these are ones of social change and war responses. As a leader in this movement, it is not lost on me that in 40 years when I read the bullet points, I will see myself in Georgetown, checking temperatures, and telling families “it’s all going to be ok”. We must track what we’ve accomplished so when we are faced with new adversity, we can remember what we have overcome. Fifteen years ago, no one would have said, ‘In your Y career you will lead your branch and community through a global pandemic that will cripple, cause loss of life, and divide so many.’ As a community, our bullet point will be one of resilience, trust, and strength. I pray that we continue to fight to ensure that our bullet point remains there.