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  • Writer's pictureMegan Stuke

141 Days Later...

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

A photo of the enitre staff at The Willow one month before COVID-19 lockdown
Staff Photo shoot Feb 2020 (1 month pre-lockdown)

On March 16, the management team of The Willow met to "process" the COVID pandemic. We had no idea what we were processing, what this was going to look like, and virtually no guidance on what to do.

The staff got to work. Immediate and scary changes to shelter services were necessary to maintain safety. Prevention services had to be re-imagined. Advocates with community clients had to accept that they could not meet in person and adjust. Fundraising seemed impossible. Every aspect of our work had to be redesigned, often in terrifying scope. In two hours, they had a plan.

They shared the plan with staff, asked for feedback, and everyone put their heads down and got to work. They did the work of changing, which any good management coach will tell you is the number one hardest thing for any group or organization to do. Even small change is often painful and understandably challenging for staff - and what the management team asked of our staff on March 16 was a massive change. And it needed to happen practically overnight.

We asked staff to suddenly become experts in community relations as they worked with landlords to rehouse clients who would normally receive shelter services. They had to become technology experts, using virtual meeting platforms, conference calls, streaming services, and remote workspaces. They were asked to rethink budgets, write emergency grants, plan new and untested fundraising approaches, communicate all of this to the community that relies on us, and become experts in cleaning, disinfecting, and screening for symptoms.

They've learned to interview, and hire staff from a distance, supervise their staff remotely, and still manage to have some fun together via happy hours, trivia games, and other distance fellowship opportunities. All of this while processing their pandemic fears, illness, trauma, children, and families. 

And they did it.   

Then, the protests. As soon as a few problems seemed to be solved, and a new routine established, our country erupted in a long-overdue fight for safety and equality. We asked our staff to let us know what they needed and to take time as it seemed necessary to their wellbeing, but at the end of the day, our team kept on. In the face of personal attacks, tragedy, and a large part of our country's population that told our POC staff they didn't matter, our team kept on. They served, they problem-solved, and they created. We asked them to take breaks, and they did when they could, but still, they kept on.

I don't know how to fully express my appreciation to a group of people who have done the impossible and unthinkable with grit, courage, and mission in mind. I am proud of each of them, grateful every moment of every day, and humbled by their commitment to survivors and the work we do. I will never be able to fully understand what they've sacrificed emotionally to show up for this every day, and I hope The Willow can be there for them like they've been there for survivors. But I recognize this is not a bill we can pay, much as we will forever try. 

I say all of this for two reasons: 1) To publicly thank our fantastic staff, and 2) To remind our community that this work is happening. We all have a responsibility to show respect, gratitude, and every precaution available to us to every person that is working in trauma-focused spaces, congregate spaces, and other at-risk spaces. They deserve and require it. Megan Stuke Executive Director

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