Chronicles of a grant writer in the time of social distancing

My dining room table/work space and classroom.

March 16, 2020

Today was the first work from home and no school day of the COVID-19 social distancing efforts. My kids each had a list of assignments from their teachers to keep them busy. I was impressed that they were mostly compliant with “school at home” for the first day. They had “recess” in our backyard, and some spurts of screen time throughout the day (more than I intended) but they also spent a lot of time on reading, math, and their other subjects.

I participated in a JFCS Pittsburgh staff call via Zoom video, then went into the office for a brief meeting with the development/marketing department to discuss our plan for working from home. Then, it was back home to try, with frequent interruptions, to do my job as a grant writer. I can’t claim to have been super productive, but to borrow a sports metaphor, I kept the ball moving forward. I am grateful in these crazy times to still be connected to meaningful work and to have a sense of being productive even in a very small way.

March 17, 2020

The hardest thing about working from home is maintaining the structure of work. On a video call with coworkers today, one of the JFCS development staff remarked that she finds it very hard to be away from her regular work environment. Still, we’re all trying to stick to normal schedules, logging onto work when we would usually begin our work day, and keeping up with the needs of the agency. For staff who work directly with clients, that means calling to check on them, and offering to provide services via video or phone.

Those of us who don’t work directly with clients are able to access our work documents remotely and to keep working toward deadlines. Because closures related to COVID-19 are widespread, some of our work is understandably slowing down, so I am trying to make steady progress toward deadlines that are a bit further off, and to be available to help with other agency projects, as needed.

For many of us, our work gives us a sense of normalcy, in a very abnormal time, and helps us stay connected to other people while we are physically distant from one another. JFCS clients should know they are encouraged to reach out to us, as all the staff remains connected and are available to help.

March 18, 2020

There are pluses and minuses to every day of working from home. Today, one bright spot was that the weather was nice, enabling our family to go for a walk in the park at lunch. Another positive was that my kids had their first day of virtual learning, in which they could see and hear their teachers and classmates via video link. 

On the other hand, adjusting to distance learning was a challenge for all of us, especially with difficulties setting up the technology. Frequently today I reminded myself to take a moment to breathe, and I gave myself permission to just sit still to collect my thoughts during the rare moments that I wasn’t responding to a work e-mail or answering my kids’ questions about school work.

A consistent highlight to my day has been the opportunity to touch base with coworkers by video link. Human connection is so important, and each day I notice that some of us are struggling a bit more than others. Our daily conversations give us the opportunity to keep tabs with each other, provide an opportunity to talk through our challenges, and maybe even share a laugh when a pet or family member makes a cameo appearance on the video feed.

We are all juggling a lot of balls right now, with little time to process everything, and the background anxiety of knowing that we are living through a very difficult period with many unknowns. It’s a lot to deal with. However, even though we are physically distant from each other, we are not alone. Sometimes just taking a couple of minutes to talk about what we are experiencing offers others a feeling of comfort and validation and lifts our own burden a little bit, giving us the psychic space we need to focus and be productive.

March 19, 2020

It’s my fourth day of working from home, and my dining room table is more cluttered than ever, but my family is settling into our new routines and learning to use new technologies, while giving each other space to do our work. I am also following the great advice of this article from The Cut which advises parents to take the pressure off themselves to get a lot of work or schooling done during this period. I remind myself that anything we accomplish is great, but it’s most important to stay physically and emotionally healthy right now.

As a grant writer, my job is to think about the quantifiable impact of JFCS’s services on the community. For example I often write about the number of people who receive food assistance from the JFCS Squirrel Hill Food Pantry, the number of jobseekers who find work through the JFCS Career Development Center, and the number of vulnerable refugees who receive the supports they need through JFCS Refugee and Immigrant Services.

However, in this time of crisis, I am learning about the extraordinary human impact our staff have on the community. Even though the JFCS building is closed, staff are constantly in phone and video contact with clients whose existing needs have been intensified by this crisis, and our agency is here for anyone in the community who is newly struggling.

While the news from day to day is overwhelming, I am in awe of my coworkers who are approaching their work with new energy, a willingness to help wherever needed, and the creativity to assist our community in totally new ways. JFCS is still here for you. Don’t hesitate to give us a call.


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Susan Jablow, Free-lance Writer

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