Published from Democrat and Chronicle, Sunday, March 13, 2022. You can read the piece in its original format here.
“It has been quite a year...this week” – these were the sage words stated at the end of a meeting with community leaders in a United Way conference room on March 13, 2020 – the week the first case of COVID-19 was documented in Monroe County.
Now two years later, we reflect on this collective experience as each of us navigates the unknown in an ever-changing time, trying to make sense of it
all and do what’s best for our families, co-workers and community.
We learned many lessons in the last 730 days. The greatest for me is the undeniable proof that together we can tackle the unimaginable and achieve extraordinary things in a short time with focus, collaboration, and determination. We know this because we have.
United Way is uniquely situated to witness the good that happens when government, nonprofits, businesses, and individuals collaborate to support our region. During the height of the pandemic, this partnership and generosity was on full display. Workplaces donated money, supplies, and repurposed equipment to ensure essential workers remained healthy and safe. Community members volunteered in record numbers.
When schools shut down, government, RTS and Foodlink came together with our school districts to feed students and their families. Five thousand clinical and non-clinical volunteers signed onto Volunteer United to staff vaccine clinics reaching under-served communities.
We collaborated at a scale, scope, and pace that was astounding to witness when the question was purely: “What can I do to help?”
Before COVID, one in five people in our region accessed human service resources to make ends meet. Since then, we have seen those numbers doubling and tripling, with increased food insecurity, growing rates of domestic abuse, homelessness on the rise and increases in the number of mental health emergencies in children and adults.
Our nonprofit partners report they face more challenges today than in March 2020 – with crippling demand for services, inadequate funding and severe workforce and volunteer shortages.
The pandemic amplified longstanding community challenges of deep-seated racial and socioeconomic disparities and fractures in our care delivery systems. The adage holds true, “The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.”
Let us not fall back to what was.
Instead, let us seize this moment to build a robust and equitable region for all. May we take this moment to recommit and lean in fully to give of our
time and resources to create a future of which we can all be proud.
While our needs are profound, our capacity for good is endless. We are capable of achieving extraordinary things.
What we do next, individually and collectively, will make all the difference.
Jaime Saunders is president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes