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Saluting the quiet heroes of the pandemic

The following is adapted from a speech Alexya Heelis, executive director of United Way Saint John Kings & Charlotte, gave at the Tutta Musica’s Ovation concert saluting everyday heroes.

During the pandemic, there were many people who stepped up for all of us – nurses, doctors, front-line workers, essential workers.

Many of these professionals and volunteers were rightly applauded as heroes who risked their personal health and safety, day after day, while most of the world were hunkered down quarantining their homes.

Yet, there was another group that didn’t get as much public recognition but, in my mind, are equally deserving – non-profit staff!

During the pandemic we often heard the expression, “We’re all in the same boat.” But that was definitely not true.

We were all sailing through the same storm, but we were all definitely not in the same boat.

Some of us were on luxury cruises and some of us were in rubber dinghies with no motor.

Non-profits braved the storm. For many of the most vulnerable in our communities, non-profits are their refuge, they are a critical part of their healthy network, so to be cut off from this support would have been devastating.

I personally witnessed non-profit staff’s commitment to their clients and our community. They made sure that the most vulnerable were taken care of. I watched, with great admiration, as nonprofits pivoted.

Even in the earliest days of the pandemic, they realized how crucial it was to continue supporting their clients’ with their basic needs and mental health.

Community organizations came together and collaborated like never before to organize deliveries of groceries and healthy food.

Domestic violence organizations continued to offer in-person safety assessments and planning, putting their clients’ needs ahead of their own.

As the pandemic progressed, non-profits continued to skillfully pivot and demonstrate their incredible nimbleness and adaptability.

My colleagues at the United Way, and other funding organizations across the country, worked 12-hour days to get emergency funding out the door and into the hands of other non-profits to ensure they had the necessary resources to meet emerging needs.

Programs were moved online, clients were provided with laptops, and Internet connectivity was arranged to ensure continued connection and continued progress on clients’ goals.

Non-profit staff found creative ways to do their work within the public health guidelines and made sure that those most vulnerable and most impacted by COVID were taken care of and not forgotten. It was simply not an option to pause their work.

This affirmed for me that the people who make up non-profits are the quiet heroes, the ones who don’t wear capes, and are not looking for any recognition.

But today I want to shine the spotlight on them and make sure they know that the work they did was more than just noted – their care and compassion were unmatched, their sacrifices were seen, and our community is better every day because of them; the pandemic only highlighted that.