By Chris Krehmeyer, President and CEO, Beyond Housing

I know. How on earth can anything in 2020 give me reason to be thankful?

It has been an awful year in so many ways. The global pandemic and all its ramifications, from physical and mental health to the economy, has wrecked the lives of so many in 2020. The never-ending battle of people of color trying to be afforded the same grace, opportunities, and equity in all facets of life showed us so many painful reminders that we still have a long way to go as a country. Lastly, our political environment is as toxic as it has ever been and has led to such a marked divide in our country.

So, what on earth would drive me to suggest that I am thankful?

Let’s be clear, I think this year sucks! That said, I have seen some remarkable things this year that I hope will not end anytime soon. When the speed and harshness of COVID-19 crashed into our community in mid-March, fear gripped us all. The unknown turned into a real-life crisis for so many of the families that Beyond Housing serves each and every day. Job losses for many female heads of households mounted especially quickly. While the CARES Act funding from the federal government actually was effective in staving off the cataclysmic outcomes some thought could occur, it has not prevented great devastation for many families.

As an organization, we experienced three immediate things:

  1. The families we serve in our rental housing as well as other programs saw job losses occur with lightning speed.
  2. Our funders and partners stepped up right away to offer help. 
  3. Our staff were concerned with both the families we serve as well as their own families.

From mid-March until today, all three of these issues have been intertwined and, yes, have given me the notion that I can be thankful even in this horrific year.

There is one constant that I have seen over and over again in my 28 years leading Beyond Housing: The families we serve are remarkably resilient and unwavering in their commitment to forging a better life for themselves.

These last eight months have once again shown that, no matter what the unfair world throws at them, these individuals who are part of the Beyond Housing family will stand tall and show strength that I believe most of us cannot truly understand. Their world was turned upside down, but our families barely blinked. Were they scared? Of course. Did they freeze and curl up in the fetal position? Hell, no. They took a deep breath and said, “OK, what do we do?”

Many called us right away and asked if we could help. This is exactly what we want families to do when they get jammed up—and oh so many of them were jammed up from this pandemic.

One of our critical foundational bedrocks is to build deep and trusting relationships with those we serve, so when a problem occurs, they are confident that we will be there for them. I believe this critical part of our work has been instrumental in how we have helped our families through this terrible thing we call 2020. More to come on this.

The second amazing thing that happened right after COVID-19 began to wreak havoc on our community is that our partners, new and old, big and small, quickly reached out and asked how they could help. They were sincere and transparent in their desire to help us and the community we have served for so many years. Many said that because of our close relationship with the community, they were confident in our ability to understand what the need was and how to respond. We were humbled, but we also knew they were right.

What transpired in those first 60 days was over $1 million in support for the families we serve. The funds were allocated toward rent, utility assistance, food, and other basic needs our families communicated to us in multiple surveys. Throughout 2020 we have been able to confidently tell the families in our 500+ rental homes that we will be there for them and help them weather the storm of 2020.

We also were able to raise enough funds to provide many other members of the 24:1 Community with the same type support as we have provided to our rental families. In addition, we were able to provide over 300,000 meals for families in need from April thru June thanks to the generosity of our funders and partners. We also just completed our Thanksgiving food distribution, serving almost 400 families during a difficult and stressful holiday season.

We received support from national funders, local funders, large donors, individuals, and many others since this pandemic started. Two in particular stand out: Our national partner NeighborWorks America and our local partner Webster Groves Presbyterian Church—who gave us our first gift ever in 1980.

The third aspect to be thankful for is the remarkable staff at Beyond Housing. Like so many of us, they went through a whipsaw of emotions from shock to fear, annoyance, and resoluteness in the face of this terrible onslaught of COVID-19. Thanks to the dedication of our staff, we pivoted to working virtually with an incredibly quick turnaround time.

Instead of just worrying about their own needs, our staff put their hearts and minds into focusing on the needs of our families who were in an even worse situation. Our staff worried about how to help when such dramatic changes were happening to so many. This worry was then coupled with their own family upheaval as spouses and other family members also experienced stress and loss due to the pandemic. Those with school-age children had the even more complicated task of trying to figure out virtual learning on the fly.

Throughout all of this, I have seen such an unwavering commitment to our mission, our work, and the families we serve. It is humbling to work shoulder to shoulder with so many dedicated people.

So, back to my whole thankful thing. People have lost their lives, loved ones are gone, families are changed forever. Businesses have been lost and livelihoods destroyed. I understand all of this and will never forget the damage done. That being said, all of the above gives me reason to be thankful. Thankful that so many partners came to help so quickly in a time of great need. Just as Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” We indeed saw so many people and organizations come to help our families.

I’m thankful that the staff of Beyond Housing is so committed and remarkable in their desire to deliver our mission day in and day out, even as their own lives become challenging as well.

Finally, I’m thankful that we are able to stand with the families we serve. We are humbled by the strength shown by so many as they deal with what a lot of us would view as unimaginable. The stress and trauma of job loss and all that comes with it can be overwhelming, but our families know they have to fight to keep their hopes and dreams moving forward. How can we not be thankful to do our part in helping their aspirations come to fruition?

Those of you who know me realize that I am forever optimistic. This fact will not change—but as I grow older, I have certainly added a layer of pragmatism to my lens. When I say that I am thankful for what I have seen and been through in 2020, I do so with a somber tone and cannot wait until we turn the calendar and start anew in 2021.

Chris Explainer

Chris Krehmeyer I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.

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