Barbara Fields, Greater Worcester Community Foundation president and CEO, reflects on what she's learned in her first year leading the 45-year-old Foundation.

As many milestones did this year, my one-year anniversary leading the Greater Worcester Community Foundation came and went in the fog of the pandemic. Now, as the weather cools and we enter the busy fall season, I’m taking a moment to reflect on what I’ve learned immersing myself in all things Central Mass.

August 2019, when I assumed the role of president and CEO, was an exciting time. I was eager to get to know the community, learn how to position the Foundation to be a more integral asset, and use our resources to strengthen the resiliency of this community.

I met with dozens of nonprofit, business, government, and community leaders. Nonprofit experts explained how they were creatively restructuring and redesigning their programs to meet challenges of the 21st century. The Eds & Meds spoke of their research and vital role in our economy. Key business leaders outlined issues pertinent to Whitinsville, Leicester, and Main South. Our donors laid out expectations, areas of improvement, and how they hope to see the Foundation grow into a prominent change agent and civic leader.

GWCF’s talented staff and 21-person Board of Directors introduced me to the Foundation’s 45-year history, and the hundreds of generous donors.

And, I covered miles and miles to learn what makes Worcester County tick. I even rode shotgun while Worcester’s City Manager Ed Augustus gave me his tour of the Heart of the Commonwealth. (Give a shout if you’d like to show me your perspective on the city, I’ll even bring the road snacks!)

I’d like to thank each of you for welcoming me, giving me the lay of the land, answering my questions, and encouraging me with your insights and observations.

We thought we had a fresh slate in 2020, but by Valentine’s Day, we saw the havoc COVID-19 could create. A month later, GWCF staff began working from home and pivoted overnight to respond. Our Board Chair Carolyn Stempler advised me: “Community foundation work is not a sprint, but a marathon.” Thankfully, I have good stamina!

From our homes, staff and Board members orchestrated a chain of support that encouraged local residents to pull together. What emerged – Worcester Together: Central Mass COVID-19 Fund, our partnership with the United Way of Central Massachusetts and the City of Worcester – encapsulates the power of philanthropy. In less than six months, we raised more than $10 million (Thank you thank you!) and awarded $8.6 million in grants to 195 nonprofits.

While we were engrossed in pandemic relief, the nation erupted in response to the brutal slaying of Black residents from Minneapolis to Louisville and beyond. This year has been a reckoning and we’re echoing its call. For the first time in the Foundation’s history, we targeted our granting to racial equity. More than $80,000 was awarded in microgrants to 29 nonprofits and the Coalition for a Healthy Worcester. These grants are a small but powerful first step while we take a moment to consider how we will play a meaningful role in addressing racial equity and justice.

Worcester County is resilient. Our elected leaders are caring and innovative. Our donors are generous and compassionate. Our nonprofit leaders are courageous and creative. So many have stepped up in extraordinary ways to meet the remarkable challenges of this time. But, we are far from out of the woods.

Albeit a bit worn around the edges after months of social distancing, I remain energized and steadfast in building a more equitable, more just, more resilient, and more open Worcester for all.