Thoughts from Tom Cook, the Executive Director of the Cook Family Foundation.
When I was at Camp Hayo-Went-Ha as a youth, sitting around a campfire, the camp director grabbed a piece of kindling and easily snapped it in half. Then he held eight pieces of kindling together, and though he applied considerable force, he was unable to break them. I think of this story as our community faces a unique and severe challenge brought on by a virus too small to see. We will either rise to the occasion and discover new strengths, or we will have our deficiencies exposed. Probably some of both, but if we work together, we can get through this trial and hopefully build new muscles that will allow us to make our community healthier, and a better place to live for more of us.
Currently, our community–Shiawassee County–and our country (and the world) confront an unprecedented situation. This is foremost a health crisis, so we listen first to the experts, and we our fortunate to have the wisdom and services of the Shiawassee County Health Department and Memorial Healthcare. However, there are many difficult decisions we face as individuals and organizations not directly related to public health for which there is no clear guidance. We need to look to each other for help making choices, and we need to be patient and supportive of each other as we all struggle to learn and discover the best course of action.
Our options may be constrained by social distancing, by new laws and rules put in place to protect public health, breakdowns in communication, a lack of resources, and a missing person whom we have counted on in the past to give us guidance. It is time to be creative, to think of new solutions to problems, to experiment, and to rely on partners that perhaps we have not called on before.
We All Have Assets. Fortunately, we have many strengths in our community, and we can start by looking at our own skills and the successful work of our community organizations. What is your purpose? How can you continue to serve that purpose, and do it in a way that helps others and strengthens our community? The Cook Family Foundation works to assist locally-based nonprofit organizations better serve the residents of Shiawassee County. We are proud of having helped several organizations add capacity that, right now, are helping them serve our neighbors in need. Other organizations–ours included–are now realizing that what worked for them last week isn’t appropriate today.
Not all of us have a direct role in fighting the COVID-19 virus and its impact on the population, but all of us have a responsibility to not make the situation worse. Thus, for many of us, the best thing to do is to stay at home and limit our interactions with others. For a community where people come together often, this is hard. We are used to helping out those in need, or working together to make the place in which we live better, or just enjoying each other’s company and celebrating all that is good.
Staying connected is our first challenge. Call your family and friends, especially those you rely on for emotional support, or who you know you can cheer up. To meet our work responsibilities we may need to look to new tools for communication. The Cook Family Foundation quickly and easily began to use Zoom for virtual meetings, but there are other online platforms like Go To Meetings and Google Hangout that allow for face-to-face communication, sharing of documents, and productive brainstorming without participants being physically in the same room.
Facebook and other social media also connects us, and we are fortunate to have these tools available. I have worried sometimes that in our community we use social media to voice our criticism and then save our positive interactions for face-to-face encounters. It’s time to flip that, check our criticism, and limit our negativity. Not that our feedback isn’t useful, but let’s think about the best way to share our ideas and suggestions. In all our communications–online, phone, and from six feet away from another person–let’s be extra aware of the impact our words and attitudes will have. Now is the time to be as positive, optimistic and supportive as we can. We are all struggling to cope; some days may be harder than others.
The Cook Family Foundation’s role is to provide funding to local nonprofits and we remain committed to doing that, now and in the future. With the declines in the stock market, our endowment has also been reduced and our financial position is not as strong as it was, but we have funds. Our current priority is to support organizations helping Shiawassee residents–especially those in need or at risk–get through this difficult time. Let us know if we can help. Longer term, we recognize our nonprofits may need support to recover from the current situation; we will be there to help then.
None of us do our work alone. All of our local nonprofits need support right now, especially if you have some past history of involvement as a participant, volunteer or donor. In the isolated days ahead, think of the right way to reach out to them and show your support. If a nonprofit works to help those in most need, they can really use moral or financial help. Already, several community groups that serve particular populations are trying new ways to reach out to their constituents; how can we help them do this?
If your favorite nonprofit does not directly address human needs, this is a time to be creative. What new way can we deliver on our mission? What work can we do online, alone, or in a closed office to move us forward? How can our arts and cultural organizations engage, entertain and enlighten all of us stuck at home? How can groups that work to protect and promote our natural resources remind us of what a special place in which we live? How can we all help educate and support children who are learning at home? The mission and work of all our community organizations is important. We all need to continue to move forward, though it may be in a different direction and in a new way.
Public Health must remain the first thing on our minds. We at the Cook Family Foundation are of course taking health precautions, and our office is closed, but we are accessible via email and telephone. Feel free to contact us, even if you just need to hear a friendly voice or positive perspective. We are drawing on our newfound technology skills to work remotely, and have some resources that we can share if you need them.
Take care of yourself and those in your family. The Shiawassee County Health Department has established a local phone number for residents to call with questions related to COVID-19 (Corona Virus). Please call (989) 743-2460 if you have questions. Look to official sources for the best information, and beware of false information, hoaxes and scams. Take the time to get it right before you act.
Teamwork was the lesson I learned at Y camp. Camp was an asset not only in my childhood, but it also played a formative role for my father Bruce during World War II, for my brother Paul and for several of the next generation of Cooks who all spent time in the outdoors learning the working of groups and the power of collaboration. For this reason, the Hayo-Went-Ha Camps are one of the few charities located outside of Shiawassee County that we support. We are focused currently on the nonprofit organizations of Shiawassee County and meeting our mission to strengthen them so they can better serve their stakeholders. Let us know how we can help.