Opinion | Burdens may be unprecedented, but they don’t have to be insurmountable

The pandemic is reflecting the racial and socioeconomic disparities that exist in our community. We must engage those whose lives have been upended.

As businesses across our region are experiencing extended closures due to Covid-19, many of our neighbors, friends and family members are experiencing crippling financial impacts. 

As the leader of an organization committed to helping people prosper, I, like many other leaders, am finding a steep new set of challenges during this pandemic. And like many other leaders, I am committed to delivering on Goodwill’s promise to the community, regardless of circumstances.

Goodwill continues to focus on supporting team members, clients, customers and our community. With significant budget constrictions, we, like many, have had to make some tough decisions. 

On March 26, we closed our retail stores and other parts of our business based on local stay-at-home orders. We made the difficult decision to temporarily lay off 750-plus team members while supporting others working virtually to provide training and employment services for people in our community who need it now more than ever. We are finding that the economic impact of the crisis is making deeper community challenges more visible.

It is no secret that the Charlotte region struggles with upward mobility for its residents. Covid-19 has amplified this. It is disproportionately impacting people with limited resources, options and access. While the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, data indicates that people of color and low-income families are bearing the brunt of this pandemic. In short, the impact is reflecting the racial and socioeconomic disparities that exist in our community. 

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Individuals in traditionally low-wage jobs are less likely to have health insurance and potentially lack paid time off. Layoffs are affecting workers in positions related to food and hospitality services, retail and more. Unemployment claims have skyrocketed to a historic level. 

While these burdens may be unprecedented – they do not have to be insurmountable.

We must be creative and engage differently to support those whose lives have been upended. We must continue to support those already struggling to make ends meet to sustain themselves and their families. 

I find myself reflecting on two key questions, and offer them for your consideration:

  1. How can we continue to find creative solutions to create opportunities during this pandemic and in its aftermath? 
  2. How do we continue to make progress for those facing the most challenging situations?

I have concluded that first, we can focus on what we can control, starting with our own organizations. Our teams are depending on us to do everything we can to ensure a safe and healthy work environment and to support them and their families. 

Work to ensure an environment that creates access and removes obstacles. Allow flexibility in your policies. Provide as much support as possible and be cognizant of, and address, the challenges some may have if they don’t have the necessary resources. Ensure equitable access to technology. Be mindful that individuals working from home are juggling challenging circumstances with children and other caregiving responsibilities.  

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Communicate, communicate and communicate. Share the guiding principles you are using to make decisions, share with clarity what you know for sure, and be honest about what you don’t know yet. Stay connected. Encourage, support and model self-care.  

Don’t lose sight of the future. While we focus on getting through this healthcare crisis, we also need to continue to focus on the long-term needs of equitable access to opportunities and economic mobility. Focus on key questions about how we will need to work differently to ensure the best outcomes for individuals and families.

Commit to continuing this creative and collaborative momentum. Now is the time when we can step up to pave the way for supporting our communities for the long term – together. I’m excited to see so many organizations leading the charge to address issues like food insecurity and inequities in internet access. I applaud businesses that have been on the cutting edge of providing relief to people experiencing financial challenges. Our call is to ensure this care and consideration continue in the days, weeks, and years to come. 

As many others are leading the charge to ensure the Charlotte region is the caring community so many desperately need, we intend to be a guiding light in this season of uncertainty. Goodwill exists to help people see possibilities, seize opportunities and prosper.

Our commitment is to stand by and with the people who need us most during this critical time. Our work is partnering with people in our community to help them achieve their goals around family-sustaining employment – this means accessing jobs that provide better wages, benefits that support their families, and opportunities to build a career. 

This is a challenging time for all of us. I pray that as a community we will work together to get through it and in doing so, gain some empowering lessons that will make us better. 

Chris Jackson is president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont. He leads the nonprofit in its efforts to help people in the greater Charlotte region see possibility, seize opportunity and prosper through free job-skills training and employment services.

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