The Road to Recovery: Strengthening Our Community Post COVID-19

By Rose Bradshaw | Originally Published in Fort Worth Business Press

Anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked, “What was the first sign that civilization exists: the invention of fire or the discovery of the wheel?” Mead replied, “Neither. The first sign of civilization was the discovery of an ancient femur that had been broken and healed.

“The healed femur tells me that someone found that wounded person, took the time to stay with them, and bind the wound. A healed femur indicates that someone helped a fellow human, rather than abandoning them to save their own life.

“Helping someone else through difficulty. … That is where civilization starts.”
By Mead’s definition, the level of charitable activity in our community over the past six months indicates that we are, indeed, a civilized bunch. When the pandemic brought our nonprofit sector to its knees financially, North Texas Community Foundation fundholders, private foundations and individual donors pumped more than $20 million into organizations working on the front lines.

The impetus to “do good” helped stabilize our community. But doing good is not enough to get us on the road to recovery. For our community to thrive again, we need to do good, well.

Doing it well – that’s surprisingly hard. So what do we need to get the job done? Adequate resources and strong, solution-driven partners are important in the best of times. In a crisis, they are essential.

Here’s a quick run-down on where we stand today:

Resources: Charitable Giving & Federal Stimulus Helped Meet Immediate Need; Uncertain Funding Dims Prospects for Long-Term Recovery

Charitable donations have accomplished a great deal to date. That $20-plus million in local funding fueled a phenomenal response from leading agencies such as Tarrant Area Food Bank, Meals On Wheels, Catholic Charities, United Way, Child Care Associates, Boys & Girls Club, Camp Fire, Center for Transforming Lives, Safe Haven, Alliance for Children, ACH Child & Family Services and so many more.

Outstanding leaders at each of these organizations went into overdrive to diagnose problems, develop solutions and marshal the resources to deliver critical, life-saving services.

The good news?

Essential services continued, unabated. Using the broken femur analogy, we bandaged the wound, applied the cast and administered the painkillers (which I hope were brewed locally!).

The bad news?

The patient is in critical condition.

When COVID hit, our nonprofits doubled-down on the delivery of services and cancelled the revenue-generating events on which they depend for nearly 50% of their income.

Now, many are struggling to survive – during a time when their clients are more fragile than ever.

So, where do we go from here? How do we ensure that we rebound and fully recover?

First and foremost, we can’t let high-performing organizations go out of business due to short-term cash flow issues.

If we do, we will live to regret it. Who wants to start from square one next year to recreate the teams and strategies that are so effective today?

Nonprofits play a critical role in our economy – creating jobs, leveraging public dollars, and delivering vital services. According to economist Ray Perryman, Fort Worth/Arlington nonprofits employ 130,000 individuals and generate $10.3 billion in GDP. In addition to all the good work they accomplish, that revenue pays salaries and buys goods and services.

While not on the front lines, visual and performing arts organizations are vital to our well-being and need our help as well. Over the past six months, they stepped to the sidelines so that we could devote charitable resources to meet emergency needs. Going forward, artists will be essential to helping us process, understand and heal from this experience and all those that follow.

The same holds true for animal welfare organizations. They have risen to the challenge to meet the needs of all those animals whose human companions have hit hard times.

Bottom line: Flexible, general operating support is the lifeline for the organizations on which we depend. If we want them here next year, they need our support today.

As we emerge from this pandemic, nonprofits that struggle financially will need to make tough decisions.

They will need to take a hard look at what they are doing today and reimagine how to meet the needs of our new environment.

As John MacIntosh of SeaChange Capital Partners observed: “Nonprofits may need to explore mergers, consolidations and the divestment of ‘non-core’ programs. … If restructuring allows for survival and the continuation of the mission, it is far better than hitting the wall and closing up shop altogether.”

PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERS ARE DRIVING SOLUTIONS

Our local nonprofits are partnering with other agencies, city and county government and local foundations to develop solutions that scale. Here’s a re-cap of some incredible work underway to meet immediate needs:

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Child Care for Frontline Workers: Child Care Associates, Camp Fire and Best Place for Kids collaborated with The Miles Foundation, Rainwater Charitable Foundation and others to create FIND!, an online platform that allows remote users to identify available slots at local child care agencies. CCA also launched financial support services to offset care costs for essential workers. The Tarrant County model is now going statewide.

School Age Collaborative: Working parents are struggling to balance their children’s health and safety with job responsibilities while dealing with virtual learning, lay-offs, and limited financial resources. Girls Inc., Boys & Girls Club, YMCA and Clayton Yes have joined forces to provide supervision and assistance to students while they complete virtual learning hours and provide enrichment activities.

Digital Connectivity: Read Fort Worth and Best Place for Kids are working closely with the FWISD to provide devices and tech support to meet families’ critical IT needs. The work is fueled by investments from AT&T, Facebook, Fort Worth Education Partnership, The Morris Foundation, North Texas Community Foundation’s Better Together Fund, Paul E. Andrews Foundation, PNG, Rees-Jones Foundation, and Sid W. Richardson Foundation.

Access to Food: The good news is we have enough food to go around. The challenge for those who are hungry is accessing it.

United Way of Tarrant County is working with local agencies to coordinate county-wide distribution sites. Tarrant-Area Food Bank is hosting five Mega Mobile Markets per week. For Meals on Wheels, demand has increased 30% since March. The organization is now serving 3,000 meals daily. Amon G. Carter Foundation, Better Together Fund, Sid W. Richardson Foundation and thousands of donors have provided critical support for this work.

Telemedicine: Dr. Stuart Flynn’s vision of patients across north Texas receiving vital healthcare via telemedicine has come to pass. Texas Health, Baylor, MHMR, and countless health providers have pivoted to use 21st century technology to conduct examinations, increasing the numbers served exponentially.

Housing for those who are Homeless: Tarrant County Homeless Coalition is directing $8 million in CARES Act funding, bolstered by thousands of donations from local residents, to prevent evictions, move homeless individuals and families into housing, and enhance cleaning at our emergency shelters. Critical partners include DRC Solutions, Presbyterian Night Shelter, and Union Gospel Mission. 

FOUR WAYS TO FUEL LONG-TERM RECOVERY

While we work to stabilize essential organizations, we need to remember that a bigger, more expensive reconstructive period awaits us.

If we stick with “business as usual,” the femur won’t mend, and the patient won’t make it.

COVID has revealed opportunities for long-overdue change. Here are key ways we can bring about enduring, systemic improvements for the community we love:

­1.) Create Educational Pathways to Economic Prosperity:

 With just 14% of Tarrant County’s economically disadvantaged students achieving a post high school degree or professional credential, the status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable.

Tarrant To & Through Partnership (T3) is a game-changing initiative spearheaded by the Rainwater Charitable FoundationHillwood, JPMorgan Chase, and North Texas Community Foundation fundholders  to help students excel academically and become successful participants in our economy.

Students, local businesses, FWISD, Tarrant County College, and local universities have made a compact to transform the way we prepare students for productive careers. Their success depends on our support — in funding, mentoring, internships and good advice.

To learn more about how you can participate, contact Jay McCall: jmccall@rainwatercf.org

2.) Bridge the digital divide: COVID-19 has taught us that access to technology and digital skills are necessities. Going forward, all residents need digital connectivity to learn, grow and advance. The City of Fort Worth, FWISD, and Tarrant County officials are working with local foundations and investors to determine how to best integrate a community-wide digital infrastructure.

If you can help, contact Mattie Parker: mparker@t3partnership.org

3.) Support Comprehensive Economic Development: All the charity in the world will not create economic prosperity for our community. Fort Worth Chamber’s bold “Fortify” strategy — coupled with John Goff and Elaine Agather’s Fort Worth Now initiative -provides the framework for success. Corporate, city, county and philanthropic investments are critical to helping develop local industry, attract new business and cultivate public/private partnerships that drive our economy.

4.) Invest to Achieve Racial Equity: None of the investments described above will be successful if they are not available and accessible to all North Texans.

The pandemic revealed what many area residents and local leaders already knew to be true. The Texas miracle ­– of full employment, affordable housing, and quality healthcare – has not been equally shared across our community.

We have our work cut out for us.

Individuals and organizations such as Leadership ISD, Community Frontline, Diamond Hill Northside Youth Association, LVT Rise, Broadway Baptist Church, Early Learning Alliance, Fort Worth Chamber and Rotary are on the case – taking on the difficult and necessary work of helping us understand our past and charting the path forward to an equitable future.

They can’t do it alone.               

Get connected to the good work underway, and we’ll all be the better for it. Together, we can build a community strengthened by the full participation and contributions of all North Texans.

FUTURE PROGNOSIS?

When it’s all said and done, will the broken femur mend, the patient heal?

Will we come through this pandemic stronger than we were before?

That all depends on what we do next.

North Texas Community Foundation stands here to assist. We are honored to work alongside you, and our 246 fundholder families, to make sure our community is strong – for this generation and all those to come.

The future is counting on us.

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