When I was little, The Game of Life was a big hit in our house. You start out in your miniature car, spinning through chances, making choices at forks in the road, taking detours or shortcuts. If every year is a turn around the Life board, 2020 perhaps felt like a race down the mountain of life in a grocery cart with no breaks. But, what could easily have been a year to write off became sincerely a year of triumph, resilience, innovation, and perhaps most importantly, a 12-month demonstration in "love thy neighbor."
Let us begin at the beginning: January. 2020 opened with pure excitement for a year of fresh possibilities. Honoring & Onward, a celebration of The Patterson Foundation's ten years of working in the community, kicked off on January 23rd with what now seems like an impossible evening. A Universe of New Realities brought 250+ TPF family members, partners, and possibilitarians together to enjoy viewing a documentary created by the incomparable Bill Wagy.
From invite list to table settings to documentary storyboarding, I was simultaneously out of my element and loving every moment of "stretch" as project manager. The event was a sterling promise of a year-long opportunity to celebrate what's possible.
Meanwhile, what I have to admit is one of my "favorite child" initiatives was taking shape. The Census 2020 Education project began as a group of very smart people asking, what can we do? Working in collaboration with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune through Aspirations Journalism, we devised a multi-pronged effort to educate the community on the importance of the Census while reaching out through our networks across Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties to weave together and shore up outreach efforts that were already underway. For me, the Census 2020 Education was, at its core, an effort in creating a more equitable society. Lofty, but big dreams are where big successes are made.
February found us launching our second wave of Honoring & Onward, an incredible one-act play composed by TPF's very own Beth Duda. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, A Walk to Respect, was seen by more than 1,000 people from middle schoolers through retirement village residents. With themes of civility, mutual respect, and open-heartedness, the play was beyond moving. Little could we have predicted how critical that message would be later in the year.
If March were a section on the Life board, I imagine it would be something like a dark tangly forest or a Wile E. Coyote style flashing signs "TNT," "DANGER," "STOP." But alas, life stops for no human or global pandemic. We merely take the detour life gives us.
March began on an optimistic note. I had started my search for my next chapter, ensuring that my resume was tiptop and arranging a series of meetings with contacts in Washington, D.C., while there for Foundations on the Hill. That was week one. I spent weeks two through four ill with COVID-19 during an especially terrifying time when there were hours-long wait times on the emergency hotline, no tests to be found, no direction on treatment, and lungs that were, to put it lightly, quite wheezy. There is little more frightening than the unknown. March 2020 began a swift descent into the land of "I don't know."
At the same time, this period of crisis also produced some very important foundational blocks that made thriving in the remainder of the year possible. Our TPF team adopted Cope-Adapt-Innovate.
This became the litmus test for every interaction, every fork in the road. Are our colleagues in a place to innovate today? Is our reaction coming from a place of coping, or are we approaching the challenge with an eye towards adapting or even innovating? Is today a day that we need to just breathe and grant grace, or is the fire lit and raring to go? As we tumbled from March to April, our team was adapting to working remotely, to transforming our high-touch community engagement into the digital sphere. My latent webinar skills from my days in marketing turned into something that was used on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
As spring turned to summer, several critical things happened. One, like any proud eldest sibling, I welcomed the addition of two new Fellows to TPF. It was both an opportunity to share the experience with two great colleagues and to help evolve the operations of The Patterson Foundation to accommodate new team members. Next, our team truly got the hang of virtual engagement. From the unparalleled Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading's THIS BOOK IS COOL! web series (engaging more than 5,000 kids!) to a special "Harry Potter" pay it forward event honoring TPF family members who have been with us for five to ten years, we proved that while it's not quite the same, virtual engagement is still meaningful.
With the heartache of the nation coming to a head around the murder of George Floyd, a new type of uncertainty layered on top of the pandemic. I, among many others, was challenged to ask myself if I was doing enough. If my work was driving the type of change in our community and the nation necessary for an equitable and just society. There was fear for the nation, fear for my friends attending protests, fear that our leadership wasn't up to the task to set us on a road towards peace that meant change rather than status quo. And I was reminded that no one person could be all the change necessary. So in partnership with Manatee Community Foundation, we undertook community conversations. We listened and learned from community members and leaders about the challenges they were facing and how the pandemic and the social unrest was merely highlighting inequities that had been plaguing us for a very long time.
In everything we do at TPF, we look to engage individuals, businesses, nonprofits, government, and the media.
As Census 2020 wound down, Digital Access for All geared up, and Aspirations Journalism's focus shifted. While Census 2020 was a fairly narrow scope (although very wide in impact), Digital Access is a many-headed beast. 2020 more than any other year has highlighted the necessity of Digital Access to participate in society fully. No matter your age, your location, or your socioeconomic status, internet availability, device access, and skills to navigate both are critical for social inclusion and equitable access to opportunities.
At the same time Laurey Stryker and John Ferguson were getting Digital Access for All started, Advancing Mission Thrivability came online. This was a fabulous opportunity for an immersive ride-along in the world of nonprofit consulting—working with Michael Oxman and Larry Clark of No Margin, No Mission to help area nonprofits prioritize and identify potential for maximizing the crossroads of mission and fiscal success.
Through summer and fall, my search for the next chapter continued, but with additional opportunities to be "Fellow on Loan" for other national organizations. First, with Sustained Collaboration Network on their public launch, then assisting with forging connections for a Boston-based colleague endeavoring to launch a national contact tracing initiative, and most recently working with Center for Disaster Philanthropy on multiple special projects as they grow and evolve their operations. While there's no shortage of meaningful work to be done at The Patterson Foundation, these opportunities offer the chance to stretch different skills and work with a wide scale of organizations. More is better!
Fall and winter offered a totally new opportunity: to help develop the curriculum for a one-credit course at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The course is entitled "Beyond the Check" and taught by Debra Jacobs. It was so exciting to think through what TPF could offer that is new and different to the master's curriculum at the Lilly School. It is an opportunity for us to share our knowledge and mine the minds of brilliant and innovative students for fresh perspectives.
In December, we welcomed back Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, a Walk to Respect for virtual screenings and discussion groups. The need to dive deeply into the themes Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass so masterfully demonstrate have only grown as we've lived through a pandemic, social unrest, an election cycle, and everything else this year has thrown at us. While the February in-person performances were open just to our local community, the virtual screening saw folks joining from all over the country, a testament to the demand for hope and aspirations.
You may have deduced by now that I am still with The Patterson Foundation. It's an odd dichotomy of emotions. First, there is nowhere else I would have rather weathered the storm that has been 2020 than with my extraordinary TPF family. But also, as a planner, an overachiever, and Inaugural TPF Fellow with all the responsibility that title holds to go forth to an extraordinary next chapter, there is an urgency to move on that global pandemics and burning cities simply don't accommodate. But I know that in a year that could have become a wash when it had barely begun, this work has been important, meaningful, and fulfilling. 2021 brings opportunities for each of us to set a course for a resilient, stubbornly joyful, and empathetic new year. Who knows how we might work together?