Finding Hope in Hard Times
By Frank Brown, Esq. CEO, Communities in Schools of Atlanta
Much has happened in the month since our last column. More than 22 million Americans are unemployed. Miles-long lines of families wait to receive their weekly groceries from food banks. Meanwhile, due to logistical and other challenges, farmers are destroying the crops they’d usually sell to restaurants and hotels.
In Georgia, remote learning will remain in place for the remainder of the school year. College campuses will not open for the summer semester. One million Georgians have filed for unemployment. And an ongoing debate rages on about the risk or reward of reopening the economy compared to the inevitable loss of lives.
Like many of you, I’ve had countless sleepless nights about the ramifications of this pandemic. What does the future hold for my family, for my staff, and for the thousands of students and families we serve?
Beyond our existing caseload, we are fielding numerous coronavirus-related emergency requests. These include providing transportation for those unable to get to and from essential locations, rental assistance, delivering hygiene kits, procuring cleaning supplies, and laptop distribution to ensure students’ learning is not disrupted. Working with Kroger, our staff has provided groceries and staples to ensure no one goes hungry. In some cases, we are also supporting CIS Atlanta alumni who have been forced to move back home or even search for other housing options as college dormitories remain closed. Some of these students are returning to environments and family members that do not wholly value their talent.
Somehow, the moments of frustration and uncertainty are overshadowed by the slivers of hope we receive in messages from our site coordinators and students.
This crisis has taught us to redefine what we deem an essential employee and learn how interdependent we are. Of the nearly 30,000 children we support, many of their parents are on the frontlines, working low-wage jobs and putting themselves and their families at risk as they do all they can to stay emotionally and physically healthy.
A single mom whose daughter attends a CIS Atlanta partner school reached out in need of help. A watershed employee, she wrote us last week to praise Ms. Tameka McClain, one of our staffers in Fulton County Public Schools. After hearing the mom’s needs, we were able to provide food and clothing for the family and her daughter is receiving academic support at a crucial time in her learning journey. In her email, she said, “CIS Atlanta has put my mind at ease and lightened the load.”
One message I personally received last week firmly encapsulates our organization’s raison d’être.
A high school senior from a Title I school we serve emailed, “This year alone I have faced so many obstacles from being homeless to not knowing where my next meal would come from. Sometimes I would even miss school due to home problems but I found someone at school who helped me through it all. Ms. Johnson [ a CIS Atlanta site coordinator] has been my light in the darkness literally. She is a shoulder to cry on and when I needed guidance she always gave advice. Even though she was hard on [me] it was only for the best. I have truly made a connection that [I] and my family would never forget. Even during this virus she still went out of her way to make sure my family had things to eat. In this journey not only have I gained a mentor of life but I have gained a friend.”
I can’t say with certainty what the next month holds. How many more will file for unemployment, how many more will fall ill, how many more will turn to desperate measures to try and keep their lives intact?
On a normal day in late May, we’d be celebrating the final days of the school year, working with parents to help provide resources and support for the summer months, and preparing graduating seniors for the next chapter of their lives.
In the meantime, CIS Atlanta will keep looking for hope amidst the chaos. We’ll keep fighting for our children and their parents. We’ll also keep urging everyone we can to help rewrite the status quo so the folks we serve are not left behind as we deal with the ongoing fallout of a disruptive global pandemic.