A look back at the year that was COVID
By Charles Crosby
What a year it’s been. While we’re not finished with the challenges COVID-19 threw at us, we do, for the first time in a long while, have some real hope that there is a light at the end of that pandemic-shaped tunnel.
It’s worth looking back at the year that was and reflecting on how we responded to the trials consistently thrown our way. As February bled into March of 2020, we were busy serving our families and communities by caring for their children, providing support for families in court, distributing food and diapers, and preparing for what promised to be a banner year for our summer camps. Then, seemingly on a dime, everything took a turn. We knew of COVID. It was increasingly in the news and we watched as it moved its way around the world and onto our shores. But we had no real inkling of how fast and how profoundly our lives would be utterly upended. Suddenly in March, California went into lockdown, people weren’t going to work, businesses were shuttered and two-thirds of the kids in our care were staying home.
What about our organization? Well, we brushed ourselves off, took stock of the new reality, and saw we needed to keep doing what we were doing, just in modified ways. We are an essential service, and as such, we needed to keep on rolling. In particular, our fellow essential workers needed us. There were new rules about how many children we could have in a center, and we ended up needing to temporarily shut some centers down. There were new cleaning protocols and rules around how the kids would be allowed to interact with each other. It was a lot different than what we and they knew, but we adjusted. We made it work.
In the meantime, we were well underway into a major campaign to rebrand our organization. It was a long overdue project that suddenly felt all the more urgent as our phones started ringing for the “CDC.” Not our “CDC,” but the other “CDC.” Suddenly we shared a name (or at least an acronym) with the most-searched-for and in-demand organization in the country as we received calls with questions and helpful advice about testing, potential vaccine trials, and mask rules. Our rebrand suddenly felt a lot more pressing.
We also used this time to try out some new programs and ideas. We reorganized our center operations, kicked off a virtual learning program, and set up a hotline with our talented CASS team becoming enrolment specialists there to answer questions and help families through their enrolment experience. We also launched our first ever fundraising operations and have been busy building an entire fund development infrastructure and culture of philanthropy. All in the middle of a global pandemic. Through it all, the team at what became Catalyst rose to every challenge. It was never easy – it was often a genuine struggle – but rise we did. As we do.
As cases rose and fell, we would get excited about new opportunities to welcome more children back, only to see setbacks as our “tiers” fell backward into a new lockdown. We depended on the patience of our families and our staff as we adjusted to each new development, each new tier tweak. We often didn’t know what each new week would bring as our organization pushed through, changing our expectations and dealing with the unpredictability around the revenue we needed to operate and serve our communities.
When vaccinations became available, those in our profession were among the first eligible, and our team embraced this new opportunity with gusto. We proudly shared photos of our staff at the clinics, sometimes showing off their well-earned band-aids or their proudly displayed vaccination cards as we showed our families how much the safety of their kids matters to us.
At the end of this unprecedented year, we’re still standing. We survived and kept our doors open. Lots of organizations in our line of work sadly aren’t able to say the same. We persevered and stayed the course because our families needed us and because there simply was no other option than to Be There. Now we rebuild. As COVID cases plummet and vaccination rates rise, we’re seeing restrictions loosen. That means more families back to work and more need of care and assistance. Our enrollments are slowly working their way back up. Our new enrollment specialists are fielding hundreds of calls and email inquires every week. Our summer camps are back after a year away. We’re expecting a busy fall as we return to a sense of normalcy. But we’re forever changed by this experience. “Normal” doesn’t mean “the same.” We’ve changed a lot as an organization and grown in many ways and what lies ahead will be influenced by what’s come before. We intend to be stronger than ever – more responsive, more technologically able to help families become Catalyst families, more plugged into our growing advocacy role as we champion our families and their care needs.
We emerged still standing, but now we’re ready to start running again.