“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness” - Desmond Tutu
Sir Desmond Tutu’s quote highlights the most wonderful aspect about hope - acquiring it and reaping its benefits does not guarantee that we will get the results we desire. Yet there is promise that all we truly need is the “potential” or “possibility” that things will get better to encourage us to go on.
While the pandemic took most 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 (and it has) the reality is that we are beginning to see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. While the pandemic is likely to bring more changes in the months ahead – the race to begin the most crucial mass inoculation is underway – bringing with it the possibility that things will get better – and the hope and encouragement for us to go on.
As the world continues to battle COVID-19, leading experts 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.
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 look 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.
At the same time, because of COVID, we have 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 for others 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 (ECC) were granted approval by the state to open our 7th and final ECC classroom, bringing our total approved ECC enrollment at The Community House to an unprecedented 109 children/families. On Wednesday, November 18, 2020, the new Hoglund Infant & Toddler Room officially opened for business – we have answered the call.
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. Be safe, stay well.
William D. Seklar is President & CEO of The Community House and The Community House Foundation in Birmingham.