When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the JFS team came together to do what we’ve always done – help others – one person, one family at a time.
Each of us worked quickly and tirelessly. Together, we helped more people than ever before, doubling our numbers in some programs, launching new programs, forging new partnerships – doing so somewhat seamlessly with the same care and compassion as always. At the same time, managing our own personal lives.
What a coincidence Social Work Month, a time to celebrate the great profession of social work, coincides with the year anniversary of the pandemic lockdown. We have much to celebrate.
As we reflect upon the changes in the world, our organization, and the individuals we serve, we asked team members to share what they have learned in the past year – personally and professionally. Each of these true heroes has such a unique lens of the world.
What one thing have you learned personally or professionally in the past year?
“I learned that physical distance did not mean professional isolation; in fact, the opposite was true. Community collaboration was inspiring and key in offering support and resources to benefit the overall wellbeing of individuals and families.” –Susie Hurst, Director of Family Life Education
“There is tremendous generosity in our community both financially and in the desire and actions of people to want to improve lives in our community.” – Rachel Krantz, Director of Individual Gifts
“It is okay to ask for help! We all need it. Professionally, financially, emotionally: it is ok.” - Jo Hickey, Director of Food Pantry
“Having a supportive leadership team and strong communication is crucial. With changes happening daily, it took empathy, and grace – of which JFS staff received plenty. This in turn, allowed us to manage as gracefully as possible with our clients in their time of need. Even if there are no easy or readily available solutions, talking through problems as a team is crucial in creating open dialogue and seeds for future innovations.” – Rachel Ohlhausen, Program Operations Manager
“Relationships mean everything. Working with people we like and trust has been so important, as we have propped each other up during some dark days. The same is true on a personal level, keeping in touch with loved ones far away and realizing that being quarantined with one’s spouse is okay because you really do enjoy each other’s company.” – Sondra Atherly, Operations Manager, Older Adult Initiatives
“I learned that when faced with a crisis, most people just want to help. Last year it was inspiring to see Kansas City come together as a community and help those in need. It was easy to get bogged down in the negative things that were happening, but as Mr. Rogers told us, it’s important to look for the helpers because you will find them.” – Melanie Hayden, Manager of Corporate and Foundation Relations
“Studying Stoic philosophy actually has some value.” -Brittani Rhoades, MO Food Pantry Coordinator
“I watched so many of my co-workers move outside of their comfort zones, including myself, to take care of what needed to be done with compassion, professionalism, grace and a strength we didn’t know we had.” - Cindy Myler, KS Office Manager
“I learned that time is not what is important, it is how you use it and who you spend it with that matters. It was undeniable that distance does not mean you cannot have an impact. In fact, the opposite is true. We had more chances to reach more people than before because of the shift from in-person to virtual meetings. The change does not matter, it is how you respond to it!” -Lauren Glass, LCSW, Licensed Therapist
“I learned that with teamwork (cooperation, collaboration, communication, and coordination), we can accomplish anything!” – Terri Herman, Marketing Coordinator
“To adapt to situations beyond our control and in times of difficulty, find opportunity. Be kind, graceful, patient, and above all supportive to yourself and those around you.” - Wendy Anderson, MSW, LMSW, Child and Family Therapist
“Access matters. When we need to solve wicked problems, who we have around our decision-making-table matters. Our systems are broken. People are resilient. We can and must do better!” – Laura Gilman, Director of Older Adult Services
“Pre-pandemic, I was always in a hurry to point out the good things, the silver lining, the hidden blessings. The pandemic has taught me that sometimes all we can do is acknowledge that the world is a huge mess, admit that we are all lost and scared, and the best thing to point out is that at least we are in it together and can help each other through.” – Liz Conaway Muensch, Older Adult Care Manager
“Wearing a face mask doesn’t inhibit our ability to engage meaningfully and empathetically.” – Lauren Weinberg, MO Food Pantry Assistant Coordinator
“I learned that a video conference isn’t as intimidating as I used to think it was and that it is a really great way to connect with others in the community you may not have been able to connect with before due to barriers, such as transportation and time.” – Sondra Wallace, MSEd, YouBeYou , and Mental Health Coalition Coordinator
“It’s okay to not be okay. So many people have lost loved ones and other important elements of their lives; it’s crucial that we meet people where they are with love and empathy, even if it has to be at a safe distance. There is so much value in the little things; small acts of kindness for each other can make all the difference.” – Laura Stadler-Tobaben, Family Empowerment Coordinator
“I learned that we have the most dedicated volunteers who were willing to give their time and energy to help others no matter what. And they found out volunteering doesn’t just make the world better — it also makes each volunteer better. Volunteering and giving back to the community boosts happiness, health, and one’s sense of well-being.” – Vicki Johansen, Volunteer Engagement Coordinator
“I have learned on-line play therapy skills and that I am much more extroverted than I ever realized.” – Kathleen Halling, Therapist
“I have learned that two soft skills I think we often take for granted, flexibility and assuming the best intentions, are crucial for adapting to changing circumstances. JFS staff showed me what both skills looked like in real-time, always pivoting when necessary and providing an environment for us to try new solutions in the face of new problems.” – Hayden Rand, Program Impact Manager
“I’ve learned that if an organization truly wants to continue to make a change in the community every day, it will. The sheer amount of hard work and care that comes from everyone at JFS is astounding. I couldn’t be happier to start working for such a great organization!” – Dayton Isbell, Technology Director
“I have learned that change can be positive since the Mental Health team has actually improved services. We have grown on so many levels in numbers, outreach and program. I also have never been able to work from home in my career and this has been a blessing in disguise.” ~Molly McGurk, LCSW, Director of Mental Health Services
With a nod to Rodgers and Hammerstein: to the tune of “My Favorite Things”
Vaccines and Pantry and Medicare Counseling
JET rides and Chaplains and every day Zooming
Help at Home Heroes and Navigating
These are a few of my favorite things!
Kindness to clients
And grace when we’re challenged
Love and resilience are words in our language
Physically distant but close in our hearts
Of the JFS family, I’m thrilled to be part!
When pandemics come
When the world burns
When our lives feel sad
I simply remember JFS helps KC
And then I don’t feel so bad!
-Kelly Grace Loeb, Older Adult Care Manager