COVID-19 has created a perfect storm. We are mourning the loss of loved ones. Millions of people lost their jobs. Crisis hotlines are overwhelmed. Families are suffering in silence. America is in turmoil. Something has to give.
Government fell short in the handling of COVID-19 because politicians in Washington are too far removed to meet the immediate needs of local communities. They govern painfully slow, with too much partisan theater and too little urgency for the daily realities of our neighbors who are suffering right now.
Unlike the political class, the average family does not have the luxury of time to wait for broad (and often ineffective) legislation to save us. Instead of waiting on the federal government to bail us out, let’s do it ourselves.
It’s up to individuals, churches, and nonprofits to do the heavy lifting. While the government struggles to act, we are providing solutions that have an immediate impact on our neighbors who need our help right now—not one month or year from now.
Nobody understands the needs of our communities like we do. Even the best national policies would fail to impact families in Naples, Florida, like they would families in San Diego, California, or anywhere else. The myriad causes of family and community breakdowns nationwide are too complicated to fit into centralized plans with neat categories and tidy solutions.
We should instead embrace the challenges of poverty, addiction, recidivism, unemployment, homelessness, and domestic violence at the level where immediate and lasting solutions are most possible: our local communities.
At Better Together, we’ve witnessed the trajectory of entire lives change as people get off the sidelines and invest personally in their neighbors. And the need for this type of locally-driven, person-to-person connection is greater than ever. Since March, we’ve seen a 155% increase in requests for help for our Better Families program, a voluntary alternative to foster care that hosts children short-term while mentoring parents through crisis in Southwest Florida.
Despite challenges, we’ve remained fully operational throughout the entire pandemic. With a small crew of six full-time staff, we have leveraged the support of hundreds of local volunteers to serve every single family that asked us for help. We have not turned a single child away.
That is the power of an invested and compassionate community. Even in a pandemic, we have volunteers willing to host children in their homes. They are helping people find jobs, safe places to live, trusted child care, virtual schooling, treatment programs, and more. They are lifting society up, one person and family at a time.
Acting locally keeps our programs nimble. When conditions did not allow our church partners to host job fairs in person, within three weeks we put together our region’s very first ‘virtual job fair’ connecting over 650 Southwest Floridians to work when they needed it most.
We have since hosted virtual events that connected over 2,000 people to work while trained job coaches helped hundreds of people—including those with prior convictions and other barriers to employment—work on resumes, fill out job applications, and attend interviews.
Real change can be accomplished at the local level, and it doesn’t take a senator or even a president to get it done. Our volunteers are ordinary people. While some give generously with money, others give generously with their time. Even when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable, they put in the work to create supportive relationships and help struggling families carry their burden. They offer friendship.
This relationship-based and local approach to solving messy social problems is as old as human civilization. It is only in the last century we’ve traded the privilege of bearing one another’s burdens for the simpler route of paying our taxes and trusting Uncle Sam to protect at-risk children, lift people out of poverty, and heal our broken families.
We don’t have time to wait for government to save us. Our neighbors need help right now. America’s comeback will be fueled by local groups and people like you. Roll up your sleeves, grab a mask, and join us—it’s time to get to work.
If you know of a family going through a crisis in Southwest Florida who is need of support and our services especially in the wake of the COVID-19, please have them email Megan@bettertogetherus.org.
Megan Rose is the CEO of Better Together, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping children out of foster care by strengthening families through work and relational support. www.bettertogetherus.org