Dear Friends and Colleagues:
As we come to the second anniversary of the pandemic, my colleague and friend, Medhat Mahdy, CEO of YMCA Greater Toronto, recently shared a message on his thoughts about how his organization will recover from the pandemic. I echo his thoughts – which I hope you will read below – and share with you mine.
We are stronger when we pull together. When neighbour helps neighbour, and strangers meet as friends. An expression has arisen during the pandemic that we are all in the same boat, but we have not all weathered the same storm.
As a nation, we are grieving. For some of us it is the loss of a loved one. For others, it is feeling a loss of normalcy and life as we knew it. And for others, it is economic loss. Whatever the reason, a great many of us are struggling.
While some of us are rejoicing over a loosening of Covid measures, some of us are anxious. We may wonder how to re-enter a world of “normal” interactions, perhaps fearing that it is too much too soon.
This struggle manifests itself in different ways, but the answer to recovery is straightforward: a gift that we can give each other and ourselves – simply a generosity of spirit.
The pandemic has emphasized to me the need for empathy, for a renewed sense of responsibility for each other and for patience as we each navigate our own personal storm.
It is with this fundamental approach of care and compassion that we will not only recover from the pandemic but thrive and grow ever stronger.
CEO, YMCA of Eastern Ontario
Kindness and empathy are critical to the GTA’s recovery from COVID
Medhat Mahdy is president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Toronto
As we mark the second anniversary of the pandemic, it’s clear that kindness and empathy will be critical boosters against the effects of COVID-19. If that sounds simplistic for a charity with the scope, scale and reach of the YMCA, think again.
Since March 2020, Ontario has lost more than 12,000 people to the virus. Each person left behind grieving family and friends. Countless others have struggled with financial hardship and deteriorating mental health. Those living alone suffered through isolation. Families with school-age children struggled to balance work and home.
The YMCA of Greater Toronto, like many organizations across the GTA, was forced to temporarily close some doors and put some services on hold. Like others, we found ways to improvise and help where we could. Our charity sprang into action to mobilize and help our communities where they needed us most. Uninterrupted shelter services for youth. Emergency child care for essential workers. Virtual employment, newcomer and fitness programs. Adapting spaces as food banks and vaccination clinics.
The pandemic was filled with inspiring moments of community. The incredible stamina of our health-care workers was met with the sounds of pots and pans and glowing hearts in windows. Many people gave to help others. In ways large and small, our communities found ways to stand together with neighbours.
Unfortunately, we also faced a virus of racism that was amplified as people in some communities fared worse in the pandemic than others. Many Canadians began to confront a dark history of residential schools. There is growing polarization in our communities. And more recently, we added Ukraine to a list of regions around the globe facing unrest — each hitting painfully close to home in a newcomer-rich region like the GTA.
As people across the GTA adapt to loosening pandemic restrictions during a stressful time in the world, day-to-day life in the GTA is rife with conflict.
Showing kindness and empathy — for others and ourselves — can help us through difficult times. We can make an effort to safely share in the company of others. To rediscover our sense of community in the fullest way possible. Not out of some sense of high-handed altruism but as a strategy for improved well-being for each of us.
When a collective trauma occurs, it can linger in unexpected ways. Those who know times of community-wide hardship know this to be true.
Helping people reach their potential is at the core of the YMCA’s mission. Now is our opportunity to come together as a collective and build a positive legacy in the wake of the pandemic. We must meet the experiences of the past two years with hope and optimism. And we must find a way forward that includes everyone.
At the YMCA we refer to this as Shine On. It’s not a slogan. It’s a reminder of what our job is each and every day — and the post-pandemic road to recovery. Across more than 400 locations and programs for all ages and stages, we’re committed to helping others shine.
This year, we were able to return to in-person services across all of our programs. Kindness and empathy are embedded in each. But these are not just organizational values. They must be personal values that each of us carry.
We must be kind to ourselves and others. We must remember that while some communities have been harder hit by the pandemic than others, no one has been unaffected by the last two years. Share yourself with someone else and in turn, open yourself to what they have to offer. As we continue to adapt to evolving health guidelines, kindness and empathy must light the way if we are to eventually put the pandemic behind us.