GSL column: Unity is the thing to remember about 2020

Note: This column first appeared in the December 2020 edition of Great Seal Living.

Maybe it’s better to forget 2020 and all we went through this year, but there are good takeaways from this year.

Believe it or not, one of my favorite things about 2020 is unity.

I know, I know, we just came through a year filled with unrest – along racial, scientific, and political lines particularly – so how can we claim that we found unity in the middle of so much strife?

In Chillicothe, our leaders found the way. It started with the advent of COVID19 and the emergence of the Community Response Team.

It was pulled together by Chillicothe Mayor Luke Feeney, who noticed that he had similar conversations with multiple community leaders while also hearing the same concerns (housing, hunger, mental health, etc.) repeatedly.

Mayor Feeney contacted a few of those leaders. He asked them if they would be interested in doing a virtual meeting that would cover a few specific emerging issues in the community regarding the impact of COVID19 in Chillicothe. The sessions started as every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with attendance optional to allow for leaders to lead their organizations.

The sessions, which took place via Zoom, allowed local leaders to communicate needs and talk out potential solutions to each other while also giving the leaders the information they needed to speak to a broader audience. The group also discussed what they heard in the community to provide a more overall sense of their mood—the general agenda centered upon income, housing, hunger, and a few other matters.

Typical meeting attendees are representatives from the City of Chillicothe, Ross County, Ross County Health District, Job and Family Services, Ross County Community Action, the Chillicothe & Ross County Public Library, Chillicothe City Schools, the Chillicothe Ross Chamber of Commerce, Adena Health System, Scioto Paint Valley Mental Health Center/Paint Valley ADAMH, Chillicothe Metro Housing, United Way of Ross County, and many others.

A quick win for the CRT was the coordinated effort amongst all parties to promote United Way’s 2-1-1 service, which provides a helpline to connect people in need with the services they can utilize. They have information about nearly every program that could help Ross County residents during the pandemic. Not only did leaders promote that service, but they continually contributed to it with new information to bolster the slate of services at 2-1-1’s disposal.

One of the local solutions that emerged from the CRT was a unified approach to feeding students who typically received free breakfast and lunch from school and some supplemental food to take home for the evenings and weekends. The question emerged, “If school is canceled, how will those students eat?”

The answer came from discussions during the CRT meeting when Mary Montgomery, director of food services for the Chillicothe City Schools, said she could provide meals but needed some volunteers and help from the community. Teachers and other residents stepped up to volunteer to get meals to every student in the district each weekday of the remainder of the school year.

All it took was one of the CRT members mentioning their concern over feeding young people in our community, and the discussion helped clarify the solution employed. A similar situation evolved regarding PPE and sanitizing supplies as businesses reopened and culminated in grants to help companies pay for the items needed. JobsOhio also contributed kits passed out to assist.

We also had lengthy and meaningful discussions about protests over racial injustice, reopening businesses, and monitoring COVID19 case numbers and responses.

The meetings continue today but have evolved. They start by addressing the most pressing needs, then move to a roundtable approach with each agency discussing their specific expertise. We usually hear from a retired psychologist with a message of coping and inspirational words for the leaders.

Chillicothe is named for a Shawnee language word meaning “principal place.” I’ve always said as Chillicothe goes, so goes Ross County. When COVID hit, we needed unity to answer the tough questions and talk through the solutions to our most significant opportunities. I genuinely believe the Community Response Team unified our approach to COVID19 and the community issues that it worsened. Behind the scenes,  leaders were coming together to help the community without getting the credit for the solutions.

2020 is a year to forget in many eyes, but our local leaders’ unity produced many solutions that helped many. The impact of that unity will pay off in better solutions in our future.