The biggest part of my job is telling the story of our organization and those we serve. I try to paint a picture that intersects the pragmatic, rational and emotional sides of the mind. The pragmatic and rational part of the story revolves around the metrics of our work and the common sense, best practice approach we take in delivering our mission.
It is my job to understand the data as well as the best practice theory and execution and convey this to whomever I am talking to.
On a pragmatic and rational level people understand:
- Having a decent, safe and affordable place to live is a great benefit to those we serve.
- Having a grocery store in a community is a great positive for both health and economic reasons.
- When we invest in our children before they reach age five, their lives will be greatly enhanced.
- The emotional side of the story telling has a different component to it.
I am empathetic by nature, so having emotions around the challenges that so many of the families we serve face each and every day is not that difficult. I really do care about the families, the communities that we serve and those that reach out to us for help. Yet, the reality is that I have a privileged life and really can’t truly understand the challenges that those we serve face daily. I was reminded of this fact very recently. On May 12th, two days before her 76th birthday, my fiercely independent mother had a mild stroke. I am both very close to my mother and have a durable power of attorney for her health and financial decisions. The emotions of both that day and the subsequent three weeks have been challenging for her and the rest of our family. Her journey will be long to get back to as close to the way she was before, but we all remain optimistic.
“I really do care about the families, the communities that we serve and those that reach out to us for help. Yet, the reality is that I have a privileged life and really can’t truly understand the challenges that those we serve face daily.”
Particularly, the first two weeks after her stroke were very stressful. I was worried about her first and foremost but also had to deal with so many other details from her healthcare, her bills, her future, my job, my family and more. Luckily her sister, who lives in the same duplex as my mom, has been wonderfully supportive of my mom and me. My older brother from Chicago has come down twice already to help and care for her. What I know is that the stress of the situation, even with all the support I had, impacted every aspect of my life. My ability to give my job all the mental energy and attention was not the same. My energy to be the best husband and father was not the same. My normally, fundamentally positive attitude was being shaken. I say this in this space not for my own pity party but to in some small way understand the weight of all different types of stress that the families we serve face.
Families come to us with the variety of stressors; imminent foreclosure or homelessness, financial instability, historical abuse, living in challenging neighborhoods and more. What does the stress of looking into your child’s eyes not knowing where you will sleep tomorrow night feel like? What does the daily stress of living on the cusp of financial ruin do to your ability to stay focused on being the best employee, best parent or best spouse? How does the stress of having the burden of living through physical or sexual abuse affect your ability to get up every day and do all the things you want and need to do for yourself and your family? I have been able to manage my way through the modest stress in my life because I have a variety of supports and resources to assist me. The families we serve rarely can fall back onto resources or supports to help them through any stress they may be facing.
In recent years, a tremendous amount of research has been done around the idea of resiliency in individuals and communities. The PBS program This Emotional Life defines resiliency as “the capacity to withstand traumatic and stressful experiences. People who are resilient draw on strengths in themselves, their relationships, and their communities to help them overcome adversity.” A report by the Harvard Journal of Psychiatry stated that “(M)ild and temporary stress can build resilience, just as a vaccination builds resistance to an illness, but extreme, repetitive or chronic stress or threat often has the opposite effect, more like that of an autoimmune disorder. It wears down our resilience, so that each experience leaves us more vulnerable to the next.” The families and communities we serve deserve the needed support to address life’s challenges. Everyone wants to see their children be successful. Everyone wants to take care of their loved ones. Everyone wants to lead a meaningful life.
“The families and communities we serve deserve the needed support to address life’s challenges. Everyone wants to see their children be successful. Everyone wants to take care of their loved ones. Everyone wants to lead a meaningful life.”
I hope my recent experience gives me a little better understanding of the challenges those we serve bravely face each day. I hope I can share in their unwavering commitment to their children, families and to others. I hope to have the emotional side of our work have the same resonance that our pragmatic and rationale work does. Today, I will continue to be empathetic because that is who I am, but I hope this recent challenge better equips me to provide pragmatic and rational support to a community that truly needs it – a community that is strong, resilient and worth understanding.