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Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Roller coaster on sunset sky.
Workplace

Leading through COVID: Navigating ups and downs at a non-profit career organization

COVID-19 has rocked the world in ways no one could have imagined and has significantly changed the way in which we act and interact with one another and our communities. As a global crisis that plays no favourites, the pandemic has triggered mental and emotional stresses, from grief and sadness to anger, fear and uncertainty. It has resulted in large-scale job loss, layoffs, and closures. It has pushed individuals, communities, businesses, institutions and governments to reimagine themselves – to find creative ways to address needs, remain relevant and move forward.

In the early stages, my thoughts revolved heavily around the well-being of my staff at Career Trek, ensuring they were safe, secure and remained as healthy as possible – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The transition to remote working was not easy for everyone. People needed time to adjust, to understand what it meant to be experiencing and living in a global pandemic. They needed to give themselves permission to feel and to navigate a space for some that included children, partners or spouses at home, layoffs of loved ones, separation from family and so much more.

For those of you reading this who are in the charitable sector you will know, very well, the other headspace I was living in was related to funding. Will it continue? Be cancelled? Clawed back? Budget. Expenses. Sustainability. Viability. Reduced work weeks – yes/no? Layoffs – yes/no? Short-term? Long-term? Terminations – yes/no? I’m sure business and industry leaders were dealing with similar questions.

The rollercoaster of emotion – from uncertainty to opportunity, scared to excited, and back again – was sometimes so overwhelming I had to leave my remote office (a.k.a. kitchen table) and go for a walk. I had to put some distance between me and the decisions I was being forced to make. I felt inundated by information about relief programs, wage subsidies, stabilization funds, managing a remote work force, cancelled events, and on and on. Sometimes in a week, I would participate in three or four different webinars (“Not-for-Profit Pandemic Preparedness,” “Coping with COVID-19,” “Responding to Financial Crises,” etc.). There were also times when I thought about taking a Gravol to settle my stomach; there was so much up and down, and days when I didn’t know what might come my way.

“The rollercoaster of emotion – from uncertainty to opportunity, scared to excited, and back again – was sometimes so overwhelming I had to leave my remote office (a.k.a. kitchen table) and go for a walk.”

As I, and Career Trek staff, started to settle into our new reality, I found I was able to pause – even for just a moment –thoughts surrounding the uncertainty of our situation. As I started to see some of the possibilities and opportunities that were emerging, my excitement bubbled to the surface.

I was able to remind myself that prior to COVID-19, there were already conversations happening within the organization about how, when and where we could look to expand our programs. We were asking ourselves, “How else can and should we be delivering our programs? What changes do we want to make to what we do to ensure we stay relevant? What do we need to do to maintain our ability to provide high-quality, high-impact programming that will benefit children and youth now and into the future?


More from Rhonda Taylor

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COVID pushed our organization from pondering these questions on a superficial level to acting and thinking in the present tense. We had to consider, what can we do now to respond and reimagine ourselves? What will we have to do to launch our programs in the fall? Forced to bump up our timelines, we’ve come together to brainstorm, plan, implement and test some new ideas.

For example, Career Trek is now starting to add career exploration lesson plans to its website in a new section called “Career Trek @ Home.” Lessons in this section are free and available to the general public. Prior to COVID, only those who were registered in our programs got to benefit from our activities. Career Trek has also been involved in organizing and facilitating virtual and in-person (socially distanced) summer camp programming. This is new for us. These activities have given us new ways to engage with some of our funders beyond the exchange of money, reporting and results. These are all good things and Career Trek will be stronger as result.

While things are still uncertain and maybe a little bit scary, we are not letting those things become all consuming. We certainly need to be mindful of the difficulties, but there is also great opportunity that is coming from this adversity. We are working hard ensure we continue to move forward even though we are living in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s hard work but we’re up for the challenge.


Interested in sharing your experiences or expertise with your peers? CareerWise welcomes blog proposals from professionals across the career development spectrum.

Rhonda Taylor Author
Rhonda Taylor has spent the bulk of her career in the not-for-profit sector with a focus on literacy, education, food security and now career development. The underlying theme to all she does personally and professionally is about social justice. The lens through which she sees and approaches her work is multi-faceted – it is about equality, equity, voice and truth and reconciliation. Her work has been about reducing and removing barriers for those whose realities and priorities have gotten in the way of them achieving and reaching their full potential.
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Rhonda Taylor Author
Rhonda Taylor has spent the bulk of her career in the not-for-profit sector with a focus on literacy, education, food security and now career development. The underlying theme to all she does personally and professionally is about social justice. The lens through which she sees and approaches her work is multi-faceted – it is about equality, equity, voice and truth and reconciliation. Her work has been about reducing and removing barriers for those whose realities and priorities have gotten in the way of them achieving and reaching their full potential.
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