By David Wolf
To state the obvious, 2020 has been a challenging and tragic year for many. This is especially true for the many predominantly Black and Brown participants we serve, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic – not to mention the legacy of systemic racism that came to the front of our collective consciousness through racial violence, often in the form of police brutality.
As we shared throughout the year, our Next Step casework and training staff have sought in this respect to meet participants where they are – which is to say in a state of vulnerability. “Going the extra mile” we called it – caseworkers taking the initiative to reach out by phone, e-mail, and weekly front porch outreach at a safe social distance – turned out to be the right strategy. At the same time, we pivoted within a month of the pandemic to offer our STRIVE job readiness training to participants on a completely virtual platform – that too turned out to be an effective response, even as it challenged participants who had limited or non-existent digital skills to begin with, thus challenging us to pivot even more.
And we were rewarded by these quick pivots by our participants, who responded in kind, in spite of their vulnerability and the limits imposed by the pandemic. Some actually found meaningful and sustainable employment, scarce as that was. Many more participated in the Census, registered to vote for the first time and did, indeed, vote!
We were also rewarded by YOU who also responded in kind – generously funding our work when funds were tight. As of the end of November, you were still doing that, exceeding individual giving totals from 2019, even as we were challenged in other areas such as partner church and school contributions. But there were also comparable silver lining opportunities as the Greater Washington Community Foundation, the District Government, notably the Mayor’s office – and even Congress, through the Cares Act – stepped up to support our cause, along with many of our non-profit colleagues who, like us, serve the unemployed, underemployed and/or homeless residents of the region.
Internally, the silver lining experience seemed to happen almost providentially. In the spring we launched anti-racism training for our part-time staff (otherwise known as volunteers!) via illustrative movies, which formed the basis for guided discussions led by Volunteer Manager Sy Jones and Program Director Jennifer Seager-Valentine. These impactful and transformative conversations have since led to book groups, this time on a self-generating and totally elective basis. More is in the works, not just the continuing training mentioned above, but also anti-racism work with full-time staff, Board leaders and Partner Reps.
So it was that, throughout the year, I found myself expressing our experience in the pandemic this way: “Yes, there is great tragedy and challenge in this pandemic year – but there is also great opportunity with lots of silver linings – if we would but look!” In fact, reviewing the year, I would say there are so many silver linings there are too many to count. From virtual Empower our Neighbors-in-Need engagements (with over 20 partners), featuring Samaritan Speakers’ Bureau participant Antoinette Green, to our first-ever virtual Next Step Breakfast in March and the virtual Gala in November – where we exceeded expectations; financial, viewership, and otherwise – thanks to you!
But our finale silver lining is really a remembrance – the creative “Parade of Cars” we held in June for long-serving NW DC Lead Caseworker Annette Carver, who regrettably left this world too early on Dec. 5, but left knowing how greatly she was appreciated, respected – and missed – in her 25-year career at Samaritan Ministry. Annette Carver, who many have described as the spirit of Samaritan Ministry herself, is an unforgettable Silver Lining, who lives on in the hearts and minds of all who served and have been served in this place.
In the Samaritan Spirit, David+
Click below for a slideshow in honor of Annette: