According to the Harvard Business Review, organizational resilience is “the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond, and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.” Implicit in organizational resilience is the human component, for no matter what the business, it it the people who drive everything. That is especially true in human services, it is the humans doing the work and their empathy and skill which is most needed during times of crisis. Humanity and resilience were called upon in the most profound way than during the Covid-19 crisis which ravaged the country and world in March 2020.
During the onset of Covid-19, JusticeWorks, and all companies, was forced to modify and quickly adapt by making changes to how we operate. Our goal was to keep our employees, families, and youth safe while assuring critically-needed services continued. Our staff rose to the occasion despite the uncertainty and safety issues presented by Covid. Against considerable odds, we developed creative and engaging ways to deliver our services to vulnerable families and youth. The State mandated shutdown did allow us to continue as a “life sustaining business”, but with considerable obstacles and challenges. Amongst other strategies, we developed a covid pre-screening protocol, established safety guidelines, and worked hard to find personal protective equipment for our heroic staff.
JusticeWorks ordered masks and hand sanitizers from local companies and warehouses, but quickly felt the sting of supply shortages. Many of our staff found local seamstresses to make masks. We also partnered with two small businesses to produce masks with our company logo for branch distribution. Staff reached out to local distilleries to supply hand sanitizer, and ‘mom and pop’ shops to purchase gloves and cleaning supplies. The resourcefulness of our staff has been truly extraordinary and we were glad to support local small businesses!
The next challenge was how to meet with families while adhering to social distancing orders. We turned to digital technology whenever possible, and conducted services by phone and video. Our overriding emphasis was to make sure that we kept everyone safe while maintaining meaningful interventions with youth and families. Where allowable, we have continued to provide services in homes, albeit with social distance protocols. The Customer Satisfaction Surveys undertaken with our families (see, below) affirm that we were successful at continuing to meet their needs.
Covid-19 has left many families economically vulnerable. Unemployment rates are staggering. Some families are unable to pay rent or bills. There are nationwide food shortages forcing children to go hungry. Many families are unable to address medical needs, mental health issues, trauma symptoms, or childcare needs. The wellbeing of already stressed families has been profoundly threatened. Our staff consistently provided crisis intervention to help families resolve or alleviate much of the stress, allowing progress towards treatment goals.
Staff stretched to deliver food to families who couldn’t get to designated food pick-up locations and provided food boxes, diapers, paper goods, and water. We put together a resource email chain and immediately began posting resources as they discovered them in the service areas. A Jefferson County staff member created a Facebook Group reaching out to all families in need. She was recognized on a local radio station for her successful efforts.
The hallmark of a resilient organization is how its employees care for each other. JusticeWorks staff started a resource chain to share ideas, resources, and offer support. Most of us were facing some of the same challenges as our families. Staff shared Covid-19 stories with families and youth through lived experience, offering each other ideas and suggestions. In the early phase of the crisis, we had to have some layoffs and pay cuts. After vigilant efforts, we were able to secure Federal PPP support and all staff were brought back, pay was restored and we made up for prior cuts. We are all in this together!
Our President and CEO, Dan Heit has long embodied the commitment and resiliency JusticeWorks practices. Many years ago ((pre-JusticeWorks), a residential facility he was responsible for was hit by a severe tornado. The tornado hit on a Friday evening and devastated this remote forest camp and on Monday, morning meeting was held in a new facility 30 miles away. More than 100 residents and 25 staff who had lived on grounds were all moved over the weekend. Dan said in a letter to stakeholders: “we won’t be sidetracked by a tornado”. His unwavering focus and commitment to excellent service has helped steer JusticeWorks through the pandemic..
The COVID-19 crisis is not over and we will continue to adjust and refine services to achieve positive outcomes. It has been remarkable, that during this very difficult time, we have continued to grow—adding new services and many new locations. We remain committed to doing whatever it takes to serve children and families and build a better community. We are JusticeWorks’ Strong!