April 23, 2020
When we revisited our employee spotlight for the month of April, a lot of thoughts went through our heads. How do we feature one employee that’s going above and beyond amidst a global health crisis? How different would a typical workday for a United Way teammate look, especially after the launch of the Central Indiana COVID-19 Community Economic Relief Fund (C-CERF).
More importantly, what does a job in human services mean when you work for an organization who has always served the community’s most at-risk populations, long before a global pandemic?
The truth is, every teammate has been working tirelessly to ensure that every child, every person, every family – can find relief during the COVID-19 crisis.
As a result, when we finally decided to spotlight our Senior Director of Basic Needs, Mary Jones, we were quickly reminded of the modesty all our teammates have for the work they do.
But Jones captures the essence of how her piece in the United Way puzzle extends beyond her interview; a story not founded on a singular moment, but through the power of everlasting resilience when cross-sector barriers are removed and a diversity of strengths unite.
After nearly fifteen years in various roles within Community Impact, Jones is no stranger to public service. Spending considerable amounts of time in the work behind United Way’s financial stability and basic needs pillars, a once “typical” day in her role prior to COVID-19 always involved layers of outreach across an 80+ agency-strong network.
“My role entails working with various community partners and individual organizations that are focused on specific initiatives or programs,” Jones began. “At its most basic level, I ensure we are most effectively providing the highest level of service to those in need and maintain relationships with direct service providers so we can continue high impact work in our region.”
And in a time where the word, “essential” may carry varying levels of ambiguity, one thing about Jones’ work is loud and clear: the need for human services has always existed, but COVID-19 has brought more attention to them like never before.
“The coronavirus is prioritizing our work and dismantling the silos that once existed along with it,” Jones shared. “It’s easy to work in silos, but in this moment, they don’t exist. We’ve been able to accelerate our work and reach more people, even if it happens over Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or a regular phone call.”
Jones has been inspired by the ways in which community organizations, leaders, and even corporate partners and businesses have come together and asked what they can do to support the work of United Way. Further, she’s appreciated the ones that don’t always know how they can plug in, but simply offer strengths or resources that they believe could be helpful in unique or innovative ways.
“We’re continuing to bring together sectors of the community into conversations about how to move forward differently,” she explained. “Innovation is critical when you’re doing sector-specific work. In fact, more people are unafraid to ask, ‘How can we help?’ even if the need is out of their wheelhouse.”
United Way continues to focus on the areas of basic needs with the greatest sense of urgency – access to services and supports. For example, in some places where food pantries have generated drive-through services to adhere to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC)’s social distancing recommendations, some populations simply cannot take advantage of them, especially senior citizens and those without reliable transportation, like our Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) populations and homeless neighbors.
As for Jones, she believes the future following COVID-19 carries more opportunism and hope, rather than uncertainty and fear.
“I believe others can take this moment and understand there is something everyone can do to make a difference in this world,” she told us. “You can’t ignore the disparities that linger in our region, our state, our nation, or even our world anymore. There’s no better time to take this momentum and reduce the gaps that are being unearthed as our response to this crisis unfolds.”
Mary Jones has always believed another world where people slowed down and took time to truly listen could exist. And while we could all agree the COVID-19 pandemic was one none of us saw coming, Jones left us with a reminder of how she hopes life will proceed and reinvent itself in the best ways.
“A favorite quote that I live by comes from a woman named Arundhati Roy, and it’s, ‘Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.’”
Perhaps the sign of a region’s transformation comes from the sounds of life – the heartbeats of a community’s collective impact – that revive far more than just its spirit in its darkest hours, but the longevity and well-being of its people on its brightest days.***