It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year and a half of JFCS working remotely in most of our services. Fully ensconced in Zoom meetings, seeing the wardrobe changes of shorts, t-shirts and flip flops in the summer giving way to cozy sweaters in the fall and winter, connecting to each other from the comfort of our own homes. We knew so little about COVID-19 at the beginning of this crisis and were fearful of the virus spreading. We watched so many people get sick, go to the hospital, and not come out. We’ve had so many stops and starts, opening then closing again; hopes elevated, then dashed, then up once more.
Looking back over the past year and a half, there have been so many stressors, and it is these very pressures that have driven a level of productivity, creativity, and collaboration amongst our staff that is truly palpable. We’ve rapidly flexed our tried-and-true approaches to service to meet our clients’ needs differently. We’ve developed new programs and engaged new donors to help see those programs through with an intensity that words simply cannot describe. Our staff, who are used to working strictly within the boundaries of their own service areas, have demolished those long-standing lines to work together towards critical response, ensuring that basic human needs were met at the start of this crisis, and continue to be met as its pervasiveness continues. Those who were clinically trained and used to providing solely direct service have stretched muscles they have not used before to survey needs in the community and adapt their skill sets to new and innovative styles of serving people. Today, our organization is profoundly different then it was in March of 2020, and believe it or not, most of it is for the good.
What is the dynamic that occurs when human beings are faced with adversity and meet the challenge with energy and drive? I in no way am minimizing the fear, the anxiety, and the myriad other emotional and physical challenges that everyone has faced during this pandemic, but I find myself truly fascinated by the human psyche and what it is that propels us in these moments. I realized very early on that as members of a helping profession, where a desire to make lives better is a tenet of the field, a scenario such as Covid-19 only intensifies the commitment to serve. But throughout this time, it has seemed like more than that. There has been a collective vulnerability that we’ve all shared that seems to have helped all of us shed our usual work narratives such as “you do this, I do that” or “it is her job to worry about that,” “he is the expert on this topic,” or “that’s not the way we do it here.” As we began the year together, crippled with anxiety, we weren’t being asked the typical questions, and we couldn’t rely on our usual answers. Anyone who had a new thought or suggestion was heard. We began to speak to each other on All-Staff calls (80-90 people) as if we were sitting down and figuring out a puzzle together. Everyone wanted answers and initially no one had them. We struggled together, and many were frustrated. Nevertheless, we would come back together for the next call and try again.
We started to learn from each other on a daily basis in ways we had never done before. Part of the learning was related to our jobs and how we were synthesizing information about the needs of our community and what our response needed to be. Some of it was getting on Zoom calls at lunch time to learn how to cook a special dish from another staff person. Articles about COVID-19, mental health, work-life balance, Zoom fatigue, technology, and more started being circulated staff-wide. Everyone was eager to share what they were reading. We engaged in and completed a full strategic plan and held focus groups where more of our staff and Board participated than ever before. Planning for our future seemed vital, and Lessons Learned from the Pandemic became a critical initiative where staff and clients were interviewed to learn what the best and the hardest parts of this time have been with the goal of using this feedback to plan how our organization will work in the future.
Now, finally, with case counts consistently down in our area, we are re-entering workspaces in a modified way this fall. Beginning to see each other again is so exciting, but some are having an easier time of letting go of the trauma of the last 18+ months more than others. One question that we are now asking is, how will we hold onto the best of the past year and a half – the creativity, the ability to be nimble, the amazing collaboration, the breaking down of silos, and the deep sense of purpose that we all felt in helping others, and each other, get through this unprecedented time. Through crisis comes growth, and the pandemic has afforded us the opportunity to do just that. No one wants to live in a perpetual state of crisis, nor is it in any way sustainable, but understanding ourselves and what has helped us get through it can only help us take bolder and more innovative steps for the future.