Year End Thoughts from Gary: The Enduring Power of Community

Dec 20, 2021

My grandmother became severely ill during the influenza pandemic a century ago when the family lived in rural Montana. She was so sick, her doctor told my grandfather she would not likely make it, and that he needed to quickly find another family to raise their infant daughter and two-year-old son. Doing so would still leave my grandfather with the three older boys to raise on his own. And then the doctor said, “…and please don’t call on me again. I am getting sick, and this is my last call.”  

The community stepped up to help my grandfather. The youngest children were taken in by a family in their community of farmers and sharecroppers. The doctor died. Surprisingly, my grandmother survived. When she fully recovered, she and my grandfather and the oldest children were reunited with their newborn baby girl and toddler son.

While this happened in 1918, it could be a story from the current pandemic. During crises, people find strength beyond their own resilience through community bonds. With all our modern resources and hyper-connectedness through technology, I believe the greatest power we possess is the act of showing up for one another. Companis Workers do this every day of the year. And, in doing so, they create stronger community. 

In 2021, our volunteer and stipend-supported professionals have served more individual clients than in any previous year, and expanded our geographic reach. Through 57 placements with 36 nonprofits, Companis Workers are in service to more than 34,321 of our neighbors living in King and Snohomish counties.  They strengthen innovative behavioral health initiatives, BIPOC-focused programs in development and capacity building, health centers for unhoused women and children, food security programs, an LGBTQ youth arts program, and so much more. 

Moved by the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided this was the time for Companis to make bold moves. We created new staff positions in 2021, including Outreach Specialist (Cynthia Hunter), Communications Manager (Erin Hennessey), and added consultant Emilio Garza to head important initiatives in racial equity and antiracism, including recruitment strategies.  

Companis formed an Equity Task Force early in the year to review, advise and lead our agency to center our work in racial equity and antiracism values, work that continues into 2022 as we frame and adopt a new strategic plan.

Jennifer Wing joined our team as Companis’ new Associate E.D. for Programs, taking over the lead matchmaking role from Karen Hundrieser who is enhancing our Worker Support program offerings. Peter Jabin’s grant writing portfolio is opening new doors for support in both counties. Donna Whitford, Phil Mervin, and Tess Selim continue their roles as Companis Workers in key development, marketing and administrative roles. And Companis Worker Joan O’Brien joined with our team earlier in the year to help organize our “Spotlight on Food Security” at Seattle’s Mount Zion Baptist Church in July. Together, this team of professionals, inspired by a love for their community, led us to new levels of service, outreach and involvement.

Another significant accomplishment these past months is our expanded service commitment to Snohomish County. Since February, we’ve made 11 placements with six agencies, serving communities from Lynnwood to Arlington, and have been introduced to dozens of others. Our work in the county is growing quickly. In the early months of 2022, we’ll be opening an Everett office as part of our commitment to our neighbors throughout the county. We are grateful to the Community Foundation of Snohomish County for their confidence in Companis to spread our wings and fly north. 

While community grants have helped fuel our expansion, these accomplishments are made possible because of our individual supporters whose donations make up more than half of our annual income. It’s our loyal donors who have built Companis piece by piece for 27 years. 

My grandparents eventually homesteaded in Kirkland. My grandmother bore four more children, including my mom, their youngest. She’s 92 years old now. She tells the story of what she says was her mother’s proudest moment: becoming a U.S. citizen. That happened during World War II. My grandparents were immigrants from Russia, learned English after arriving here, took citizenship courses offered by charitable programs, and relied on community networks that strengthened their family and individual lives. Through all the changes in our nation, theirs is still a modern American story. They relied on the same types of support many of our Companis Workers perform today. Community continues to be our greatest bond, and Companis is proud to do our part in weaving together the threads that build opportunity for everyone.