November 2020


“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy Unthinkable. Unprecedented. Uncharted. These are the words most often used to describe the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) worldwide pandemic. Society has been shaken to its core. Businesses have been shaken to their core. The Community House has been shaken to its core. The world will never be the same. While the pandemic took the vast majority of the business world by surprise, epidemiologists and other experts had long warned it was only a matter of time before such a disaster struck. And though the crisis seems to have been with us for a long time, the reality is the pandemic is still in its early days. It is likely to bring even more changes in the months ahead that seem unthinkable now. Community and business leaders expect far-reaching changes but, critically, believe there’s an opportunity to enable a better working world across five dimensions: better health, better connectivity, better relationships, better ingenuity and better accountability. At The Community House we couldn’t agree more. As the world continues to battle COVID-19, leading experts to observe “that the pandemic has put human welfare and sustainability front and center.” Consumers see a new role of companies, non-profits and otherwise – for good – and will value companies demonstrating a long-term value agenda in culture, purpose, and ethics. History tells us that The Community House was conceived in the transition period between a world war and the start of Birmingham’s surge in population during dramatically changing social and economics situations. Sound familiar. Ninety-eight years later, we have come full circle. According to The Heart of Birmingham – The Community House Story, “there is a tendency, when one writes or speaks about The Community House, to think of an architecturally beautiful building, of organizations, meetings and dinners, and indeed, a history of the House focusing on the bricks and mortar, programs, and fund drives, on the minutia of day to day operations…and that would be valid.” But COVID-19 requires us to move beyond that. Authors Betty and Frank Angelo reminded us that we must also recognize and value the intangibles of this great institution, and its nearly century-old commitment of people fulfilling “the felt needs of the Greater Birmingham community” and beyond. Perhaps, our rich DNA and the extraordinary legacy and vision our founders left us – have uniquely prepared us for these moments in history. Not long ago, in preparation of marking our centennial milestone in 2023, The Community House began a period of reflection. We traveled back to our humble beginnings, and to our founders, we studied their words, we revisited their vision, we recalled their passion and steadfast commitment to society, to our community, to families (particularly our children). We discovered that so many of society’s changing social and economic situations – we faced in 1923 – still apply, still challenge us today. With renewed vigor and reverence and respect for the past, we began to take steps to better align “The Community House of today” with our founders (St. James Women’s Guild’s) original vision of yesterday. Refreshing or replacing programs and services offered by The Community House took on added importance. Offering new programs and services for those simply seeking knowledge, and more importantly, programs and services for those longing to connect or needing help navigating through today’s societal changes and challenges; loneliness, tech disconnect, loss of togetherness, cultural disparity, youth engagement, etc., became priority. By filling critical gaps and voids in the community and connecting and celebrating others in a safe, non-threatening and creative environment for the betterment of others is who our founders called us to be. Charitable, kind, steadfast. For the betterment of others. As a result of COVID, we have now been called to an even higher service – tending to and caring for more children and their families in our community. At the start of my administration, The Community House and its award-winning Early Childhood, Infant and Toddler centers were servicing 35 families/children. At that time, over 125 families remained on our waiting list. Pre-COVID, with improved space and resource allocation, coupled with the demand for our children’s programs and services at an all-time high – we were able to grow our children’s centers to an unprecedented 95 families/children. While some families came off our waiting list, other families immediately replaced them. Then in March 2020, the worldwide pandemic hit. Essential and critical workers were called to action. Schools and early childhood centers closed. Families became overwhelmed. While our early childhood centers were also temporarily closed, our waiting list exploded. With so much gathering space unused at The Community House, and the future uncertain, The Community House developed plans to reopen the Early Childhood Centers as soon as local and state officials gave us the approval – and we would reallocate new space at The Community House for early childhood use and to assist parents, essential workers and families in crisis. While future meeting space would be impacted by this change, our children and their young families needed us – now more than ever – we could not and would not disappoint. These are the intangibles Betty and Frank alluded to. In response, on November 1, 2020, The Community House and its Early Childhood Centers has been granted approval by the state and will open additional classroom space for an unprecedented 107 children/families. Remarkably, our waiting list is back up to 125. You can choose to change with the times, meet new opportunities head on and grow your organization. Or you can fight the changes, refuse to adapt, and watch your business and the critical services you provide perish. William D. Seklar is President & CEO of The Community House and The Community House Foundation in Birmingham.

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