Organizations created initiatives to meet new needs during the coronavirus crisis. Some of those initiatives will stay when it’s over.
The pandemic has taken loved ones, shut down the economy, and stopped the community from coming together in person. Despite its pain, it has caused many organizations to grow and adapt to new circumstances. Going forward, some of the ways Jewish Baltimore organizations adapted — through new or modified programs, services, and more — may stick around.
“When something like this happens, there’s good things to learn from it,” said Joan Cohen, executive director of Jewish Community Services, an agency of the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.
She is certain JCS will continue some new methods of their services, such as teletherapy, which can reach more people virtually. Teletherapy also offers the benefit of allowing participants to log in to all types of different programs, and virtual programming can be particularly helpful for caregivers who have fewer free hours or may not be able to leave their loved one.
JCS may also continue its virtual continued education programs for staff, which could potentially expand to the public. JCS held an ethics training virtually, for example, which saw more people from outside the organization log in than ever attend in person, according to Cohen.
That said, JCS will not end its in-person events.
“There’s always a social element when you come together. You’re not alone, you’re sitting in a room with those who understand you,” said Cohen. “I don’t ever see us closing the offices permanently. There’s certain services that need an in-person perspective. There’s a need to have eyes on a person.” Teaching someone better organization skills, for example, is best done by showing them in person. “There’s an aspect of that even for staff. They very often learn from each other by walking down a hall and communicating about what they learned in training.”
JCS held a survey to gauge the needs of their clients and figure out what services they’d like to continue. They found that their clients appreciated friendly calls for social connections. JCS began making these calls during the pandemic and plans to continue these afterward as well.
Another service organization that intends to keep some of its adaptations is Jewish Volunteer Connection. Going forward, JVC anticipates that most of its larger programming, such as annual service days, will include virtual and at-home options.
Its Live With Purpose program, which allows people to make indirect service projects to donated later, was always designed to be done at home. That program has grown significantly, according to Ashley Pressman, JVC executive director, who expects it to expand further. “Ultimately, I expect that we will end up with a more robust set of volunteer opportunities that meet the needs of our partners and are accessible to all volunteers,” she said.
JVC also expanded its Bunches of Lunches program, which initially began as a partnership between JVC and Krieger Schechter Day School to provide meals to the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center. Because of the pandemic, the program now provides meals to others as well, and JVC plans to keep it this way after the pandemic, as long as there continues to be a need for them.
Just this past Monday, July 6, JVC collected more meals for its Bunches of Lunches program and celebrated 10,000 bagged meals.
“We will certainly continue that program and will keep the expanded version for as long as it’s needed, and we hope that volunteers will continue to be incredibly generous with their time and resources to provide these meals,” Pressman said.
The Baltimore Jewish Council has found that virtual programming can bring large turnouts. While nothing is set in stone, BJC Executive Director Howard Libit does anticipate that BJC will continue some virtual programs in the future. That is certainly the case for the rest of the calendar year, during which Libit does not anticipate BJC having in-person events. “Our annual meeting even went virtual, with Council President Brandon Scott joining us as the keynote speaker a couple of days after he was officially declared the winner of the Democratic primary for mayor,” Libit said.
“We are finding attendance at these events to be strong and diverse, and we are receiving great feedback from those who participate,” Libit continued. He is excited for future virtual events such as the BJC’s upcoming program with Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and its annual Summer Teachers Institute on the Holocaust with the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
“We would have periodic virtual events prior to the pandemic, too, sometimes updates with speakers from Israel,” said Libit. “But I do think that virtual events will be more frequent going forward, even after we return.”
The BJC staff will likewise continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future. “What happens in the winter and spring of 2021 remains very uncertain,” said Libit. “I would love to be able to bring people back together, but safety is paramount.”
Pearlstone Center, an agency of The Associated, also expects to keep some of the initiatives they began during the pandemic. However, its physical presence is what’s most important to this organization.
“We’re thinking about how this will unfold next year, but when we come back, we’re thinking about perhaps continuing meal delivery service. That has been a great success. If possible, it’d be great to continue,” although that is dependent on other factors, such as retreat center logistics, according to Jakir Manela, Pearlstone’s CEO.
Pearlstone has also had a huge increase in its virtual engagement and learning.
“We pivoted to utilize digital programming over the last months and will continue that, but for the longer term, that will depend. We might prefer to still have some digital engagement yet not rely on it as much as now,” Manela said.
Pearlstone has also had to implement a reduction in its workforce and is operating with one third of its staff capacity. But Manela is confident Pearlstone will soon return, stronger than ever. Staff who can work from home will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
“We have seen resiliency and determination and adaptivity and innovation from the staff and board,” he said. “We’ve seen support from the community and The Associated, from local and national funders. Even in this tremendous crisis, there is so much strength and love. That is really what helps us get through this.”