Opinion: Commentary: A Time to Look Through Others’ Eyes in Reston and Herndon

Opinion: Commentary: A Time to Look Through Others’ Eyes in Reston and Herndon

Like you, this past week was spent assessing risk and evaluating business options, trying to determine the best course of action in the face of COVID-19 for my family, and for the people we serve at Cornerstones through the many dedicated employees and volunteers who make our work possible.

No doubt, you have already read posts by nonprofit, philanthropic, and government agencies. This is going to be an unprecedented event in our nation's history, and every person, family, business and institution is called on to consider what they can contribute for the greater good. We are in this together.

Here's a start. If you were well-organized and had the means to stock up on cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers, consider what your family needs for the next couple of weeks and donate the rest to a safety net organization. Cornerstones and other front-line nonprofits are open for business. We need to wipe down the doors and keyboards, disinfect the kitchen, meal service counters and dining tables, and children's play space and cots.

AT CORNERSTONES, we are taking the health and safety of our employees seriously, but our business compels us to look out for the "rest of them." Whenever you hear "first responder," remember that's not just our critical public safety and health officers. It's also the social workers, teachers, health care workers, community organizers from nonprofit and government agencies on the front lines in any crisis.

Many people who turn to Cornerstones have jobs that can't provide work at home or alternative schedule; they don't receive paid leave benefits and must go to work or lose their job, even if they are at risk. Or maybe ignore self-care because they need a paycheck to face an urgent issue today.

Early last week, worried parents began calling Cornerstones about securing a safe place for their young children, or a location where school-aged youth can access the internet, keep up with classroom work, eat lunch, and be under the watchful eye of a caring adult. These hardworking parents don't have telecommuting options. Then began the desperate calls from people already living on the edge - families and individuals who are behind in rent and now facing the stress and fear of losing hours, their jobs, and more. In that same period, I spoke with a Cornerstones care manager and her client, who offered a rather humbling perspective on this crisis. For some in our community, this is just another trauma to endure – homelessness and poverty, chronic illness, racism, and lack of hope. It is good to look through others' eyes from time to time.

TODAY, there are 100+ homeless men, women, and children staying at our Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston, or on a mat or cot in our winter overflow and hypothermia programs. These individuals don't have the same options for self-quarantine or social distancing when one is dependent on residential facilities like shelters. And Cornerstones, county social workers, and nursing staff are right there with them, providing daily care and support.

As a business leader, I'm trying to make sense of the official guidance, while balancing public health and individual risks against the greater good of our daily work. It has not been easy.

I hope for now we have "gotten it right" with the many modifications Cornerstones has made to minimize risk while sustaining basic needs.

If you have the flexibility to work from home or in an office space that allows for social distancing, I hope you'll do your part to minimize additional exposure to yourself and those around you. And as you consider the greater good, please do what you can to check on elderly or school-aged neighbors who may need a watchful eye, a meal, or other support. Be prepared to pitch-in with financial support to nonprofits that have to stretch tight budgets and staff resources to keep serving our community.

And most importantly, please take care of you and your loved ones and remember those who need our help, are ill and will be diagnosed, and those who take on additional risk during this time.