Fiscal Year 2020 started as a “normal” year for us at Metropolitan Family Services, but it ended as one we will never forget. We all experienced a sea change, starting in January 2020, when the first person was diagnosed domestically with COVID-19.
Fast forward to March. With the need for social distancing and the sudden shift to largely virtual/remote service delivery, our “staff superheroes” went above and beyond, using creativity, resourcefulness and determination to provide programs and services ranging from early learning and counseling to domestic violence services and legal aid.
At the same time our back office employees were hard at work. Our IT team facilitated a quick and masterly pivot for hundreds of staff who moved from on-site to virtual working – securing and supplying employees with equipment and expanding our technology infrastructure to handle the rapid transformation.
Meanwhile, our front-line staff – those whose roles required them to remain on-site and/or be on-site regularly throughout the pandemic – were amazing. Their commitment has been essential in keeping things running. They included but are not limited to members of our IT, Accounting and HR departments, our Support and Operations staff, and our colleagues who staff our Domestic Violence Shelter, Mobile Crisis Response services, and Community Integrated Living Arrangement facilities, the latter three providing 24/7 support for clients.
Then, in the midst of responding to COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd shook our city, nation and world. It was more than the murder of one man – many such atrocities had happened before in America. But the outrage it sparked, and the rioting that followed, forced all of us to pause and examine where we really stand as a nation – to determine whether we truly believe in and are committed to “liberty and justice for all.”
As an organization, we are extremely diverse in terms of who we serve and our staff, from senior leadership to front-line employees. Our staff is 40 percent Black, 32 percent Brown, 24 percent White, 2 percent Asian and 2 percent Other/Multiracial. The racial representation of our client base is similar. That said, we have taken this time to assess our own attitudes towards race and racism. It hasn’t been easy. Sometimes it has been extremely uncomfortable. But as a leader in a sector that exists to serve and empower people, we are not afraid of these issues; we choose to face them.
To help foster racial justice at Metropolitan, we are establishing a President’s Committee on Racial Equity, Inclusion and Justice. This committee is comprised of staff across Metropolitan, to ensure the work is both inclusive and garners varying perspectives of our diverse workforce. The committee is charged with leading the commitment of the agency to achieve racial equity both in the workplace and with the clients we serve.
These have been challenging times, but we have seen that such times can bring out the best in people. With the help of many generous donors, our staff served as emergency workers, delivering desperately needed food, diapers and home goods to families throughout the Chicago area and in DuPage County.
In addition, our Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P) partners – our street peace ambassadors – served a dual role in the early days of the COVID pandemic, educating community members about the dangers of the disease and the importance of wearing PPE. Collectively they also distributed thousands of pounds of food to families in need.
Speaking of food, job losses resulting from the pandemic’s impact made food insecurity a major issue for many. Again, with donor support, staff at multiple sites were able to distribute food to our communities. A special thanks goes to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which partnered with our Calumet Center for a staff-initiated weekly food drive that fed more than 4,500 people over a seven-week period on the city’s South Side. Cars were lined up for blocks to participate.
We sincerely thank everyone who made these emergency resources possible during this turbulent time, starting with our Board of Directors, who established a COVID-19 Relief Fund for our clients. We also were honored to be a beneficiary of three special virtual relief events supporting Chicago-area nonprofits – “An Evening Inn,” featuring the multifaceted talents of David Davis, who has performed with Quincy Jones; “Our City of Neighbors,” an online concert featuring a wide variety of local independent musicians; and “Sweet Home Chicago,” which showcased locally and nationally known entertainers, athletes and other notables with Chicago ties. Finally, we thank the Chicago COVID-19 Fund. It was our first external investor during this time. All together, more than $680,000 was donated to Metropolitan that enabled families and individuals to meet emergency needs, helping cover rent, utilities, food and other necessities.
The pandemic is not over, and the work to implement racial justice is just beginning. The future will hold additional challenges. But we are determined and hopeful. Metropolitan Family Services finds its strength in valuing each other and working together – including staff, clients, partners and supporters – to find solutions. By doing so, we will take on these tough times and persevere. With your support, we will find and implement solutions to make the most of the future as we keep Mpowering families.