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‘Proudest moments’ in trying times

This week provided a natural opportunity to pause and reflect on what a full year in the presence of COVID-19 has meant. Some of us stopped to remember a loved one who lost their battle with this challenging foe. Many of us said a prayer of thanks that a loved one survived the unthinkable.

In many cases, we recalled an image or a story of a health care hero working long hours in challenging conditions where they put the greater good above themselves. In lighter moments, we may have celebrated our increased proficiency with technology and remarked on how we couldn’t have survived without it.

The four of us remembered something else. We recalled the moment the Chautauqua County Crisis Response Fund: COVID-19 was initiated. There was an almost immediate and incredibly generous response from the private foundations, corporate funders, United Ways and Community Foundations that routinely support the changing needs of our community. Within a very short time, individual contributors joined the effort that raised more than $1 million to meet the unknown needs of a community that suspected it would need to stand on its own while awaiting a larger government response.

While we anticipated the need for a pool of funds that could be rapidly deployed, we didn’t fully recognize how much instantaneous infrastructure would be needed. It required partnership and trust that transcended history, sectors, geographies and experiences. It called upon volunteers to serve in decision-making roles for which there were no previous guidelines or precedents. These dedicated individuals committed time and tremendous talents despite not knowing how they were going to do their day-jobs or keep their own families safe. They met weekly for months and ultimately oversaw the distribution of more than 179 grants to 132 organizations, totaling $1,045,407.

As the pandemic evolved, so did the grant making. The Chautauqua County Crisis Response fund provided food to families through grants to every local food pantry serving Chautauqua County. It helped families meet basic needs like transportation, PPE, daycare, and internet access. Our not-for-profit community received essential aid as revenue was at an all-time low while demand for their services was at an all-time high. The Crisis Response Fund provided the necessary resources to help them manage through difficult times and to re-open their doors to the public. To say that these were the proudest moments of our professional careers would be a disservice. This was truly the moment for which our organizations and each of us were created.

Thank you to the funders, donors, nonprofit organizations and individuals who contributed to this moment in our local history. We will never forget how it felt to see the spirit of generosity manifest itself during what was the darkest time we’ve ever known. And yet, one year later, the memory of these hectic and stressful days brings a sense of comfort and warmth, reminding us of the very best that Chautauqua County is, was and will be. We are so proud to be part of this resilient community and look forward to what the future holds.

Adam Dolce is executive director of the United Way of Northern Chautauqua County; Amy Rohler is executive director of United Way of Southern Chautauqua County; Diane Hannum is executive director of Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation and Tory Irgang is executive director of Chautauqua Region Community Foundation.

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