2020 - a Lesson in Resilience
Much like a lot of businesses and nonprofits around the world, Family Promise of Greater Des Moines (FPGD) experienced many changes over the past year to daily operations due to the pandemic. Some adjustments, like sheltering in place and social distancing, are hopefully temporary as staff continues to look out for the well-being of guest families and volunteers. Other operational changes proved worthy of becoming more permanent, such as time saving zoom meetings and new sanitizing protocols. While the past year posed big challenges, FPGD Executive Director Jim Cain says the biggest lesson he’s learned since the start of the pandemic is to better plan for the unexpected.
“We had no gloves, no masks,” Jim says about the first days of the pandemic. “We kept hearing about the virus happening ‘over there’. I’ll always have at least three or four boxes of gloves and masks from now on.”
Jim says March through June of 2020 was a blur for him. Working 10-hour days, seven days a week, his initial efforts were focused on keeping families safe then on raising money to offset the increased expenses incurred by sheltering in place. Because he and the staff were caught off-guard by the need for rapid changes like sheltering-in-place and keeping guest families socially distanced, Jim says the entire team experienced shifts in their daily responsibilities to ensure the safety of everyone involved with the organization.
As FPGD Case Manager, LaToya Scott’s job responsibilities typically include helping guest families look for places to live, assisting with job searches or taking them to appointments. But with families sheltering-in-place and social distancing in different areas of Westminster Presbyterian since March of last year, she now sees the families only about once per week.
“My interaction with families has been minimized. I meet with them when I need to and don’t really get to make the connections I did before,” she says. Whereas before the families would congregate in the Day Center next to LaToya’s office, they now stay on the third floor of Westminster where they also sleep and eat socially distanced from other families, staff and volunteers. The guests are very aware of the importance of distancing and keeping interactions to a minimum. “They don’t want to come down to expose anybody,” she explains.
Even though staying separated from other families and volunteers is hard on guest families, LaToya says the families are incredible at adjusting.
“They’re already in crisis mode when they get here,” she says. “Then they come in and have to abide by all these COVID safety rules. They did really well.”
Jai Smith, FPGD Day Center supervisor, says that although families adjusted as they needed to, they still experienced frustrations. With his responsibilities of ensuring guests feel healthy every day and have their needs met for things like toilet paper, toothpaste and personal hygiene supplies, he’s often the first person they see every day.
“Sometimes they vent their frustrations to me,” Jai says. “When you’re stuck with people in one room and can’t visit with the other families or volunteers, it can get frustrating. But they adjusted. It is inspiring that they are still able to do what they can do to get housing.”
Before the pandemic, Jai would work during the day to help guests in the Day Center. Now, he works different hours and keeps their living areas clean and sanitized between guest families who stay there.
“Jai’s job changed a lot because he has to be up on the third floor cleaning up after breakfast and lunch, disposing of expired food kept up there, doing light cleaning and vacuuming,” Jim explains. “When a family exits, there is a protocol to open windows for 12 hours, and we were initially using bleach water to wipe down exposed surfaces.” Now the organization has a Clorox 360 electromagnetic sanitizing machine that disinfects larger areas, thanks to funds provided through the Federal Emergency Solutions Program.
Jim says they will continue to sanitize rooms between guest families, as well as all of the common areas, even after the dangers of COVID hopefully pass. In fact, even though masks and frequent handwashing was requested due to the pandemic, some of these protocols may remain in place for the long run.
“We’ve had hardly any illness this year in part due to physical distancing and masks,” Jim says.
Even with 2020 in the rearview mirror, and the hope that operations will return to “normal” by 2022, Jim says the important lessons learned include the fact that FPGD supporters remain through even the worst of times.
“We couldn’t have done this without the flexibility of the volunteers and congregations,” he says. Even when facts were uncertain about how the virus was spread and most of the world closed down, volunteers still showed up to provide meals and stay overnight with guests. Additionally, Jim said congregations still made their annual contributions, even when they may have experienced reduced collections due to virtual services. “That they would make those choices to support our guests – that’s incredible.”