Ready, Set, Make Another Plan

Mar 21, 2022

by Gary Davis, Companis Executive Director

“I’ve heard that we may have to close down for two months!” Those were the words of a fellow nonprofit director in the early days of the pandemic in 2020. Upon hearing those words, my heart sank. How could Companis, an agency that brings people together, weather an office closure for eight weeks? Of course, weeks turned into years. And here we are in 2022, reopening our office two years after the initial lockdown. Even if another surge closes the office again, this is a great moment to celebrate what we’ve learned.

During the pandemic, the whole world went inward. We listened, we  learned, we adapted, we failed, we tried again, we succeeded, and we reconsidered everything along the way.  We taught ourselves new skills, particularly tech programs that helped connect us to one another. We renewed the basics: cooking, baking, gardening, and being at home. Some of us (including my family) got a new pet.

Then we began to move outward, with intention. We learned that our Companis Worker volunteers could find and grow their sense of fulfillment through remote service; and that those who were needed in direct service were able to double down on their commitment at food banks, shelters, immigrant and refugee programs and heath-access agencies. We also welcomed new volunteers for whom the pandemic called them into action: Oliver and Josh serving food and greeting clients at the Tukwila Pantry; Jennifer and Marti assisting our unhoused neighbors at North Helpline; Muriel staffing the health center at Mary’s Place, to name a few. We increased our Worker support meetings to once a week rather than twice monthly so that we could check in with one another and lean on each other during this scary time.

Then we moved forward. In the early months of the pandemic, we shrunk our office staff and restructured. We minimized our in-person interactions and tracked our impact while working remotely. In the process, we realized that we needed to grow our electronic outreach. That meant meeting prospective volunteers and nonprofit partners on Zoom. We also created new staff roles in outreach, equity, and communications and produced our first-ever online Biennial in November.

Then we evaluated our service area. Two years ago, our Board and staff discussed ideas for expanding our geographic reach beyond Seattle and King County. With a grant from the Community Foundation of Snohomish County at the close of 2020, we began laying the foundation for building on our commitment there. Today, we are on the cusp of hiring our first staff member dedicated to building our relationships in Snohomish County and we have rented an office in south Everett that will open in late spring. (Since January 2021, Companis has made 16 Worker placements with ten agencies with programs focused on Snohomish County.)

There is no other agency like Companis, and the vital role skilled volunteers play in our social safety net is unparalleled. The good news is, we held together and even grew our services during the pandemic. 

We’ve been able to bring all of these lessons forward because of our supporters. Companis receives 60% of our income from individual donations, as well as an active annual donor base of 600-plus who ensure our strength. The pandemic reminds us that we need one another more than ever in order to create healthy communities. Thank you for your role in keeping Companis strong.