By Barbara G. Fields, Greater Worcester Community Foundation president and CEO

PUBLISHED: Worcester Telegram & Gazette, As I See It (Nov. 22, 2020)

A year that many hoped would spark the possibilities of a new decade has turned out to be something quite different. Instead, 2020 has been a year where the compassion, creative will power, and resilience of this community inspired us to understand what will be required to realize the potential of a better Worcester when brighter days return.

Ten weeks into this new decade, COVID-19 could have stopped us in our tracks.

Instead, we pivoted overnight to launch Worcester Together with our partners at the United Way of Central Massachusetts and the City of Worcester. From there, we tapped into the spirit and generosity of our community as donor after donor stepped up to support friends, neighbors, and colleagues. In the end, Worcester Together raised more than $10 million in a few short months significantly surpassing expectations and proving philanthropy is for everyone. The triumph of Worcester Together is a tribute to our entire community.

As spring blossomed into summer, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the anguished weeks that followed, moved many of us to express our outrage and demand change.

GWCF responded by launching a new effort, Action for Racial Equity, awarding more than $80,000 to 29 nonprofits and the Coalition for a Healthy Worcester to take concrete steps addressing racial equity in their practice, policy, and leadership.

As the community responded to the ongoing challenges this year presented, the Foundation too adjusted and calibrated its response.

In our role as a convenor, we hosted virtual meetings. From the beginning of quarantine, we briefed donors and nonprofits about the community's needs and efforts to meet them. We brought together the nonprofit community - health care providers, arts groups, youth centers, behavioral health providers, food pantries, and more - as well as donors and corporate leaders and provided a place to meet, discuss, and share strategies to address the evolving challenges of the pandemic.

Our Nonprofit Support Center hosted seminars and trainings to help buttress organizations. Responding to the pandemic, NSC webinars pivoted to address everything from crisis management to building a strategy in uncertain times.

In 2020, we continued to support the college aspirations of Worcester County high school students helping more than 400 students receive $700,000 in scholarships from 51 Worcester County schools - important work which has continued despite the pandemic.

As summer rolled into autumn and we launched our annual community grants program, we knew the criteria would have to reflect the pandemic's impact on the sector. Grant decisions will reflect acknowledgement of the decrease in in-person attendance due to the lockdown and fears of the virus, how nonprofits have pivoted and adapted implementing new plans month to month, varying financial sustainability, and action plans for racial equity in operations.

As we listen to - and hear from - Worcester's diverse community, we will continue to learn about the things holding us back. In the aftermath of the pandemic, we'll work to address the need for more housing; the need for steady, good paying jobs; better access to health care; easing the struggles of our arts institutions - big and small; food insecurity; and the challenges of an education system that lacks equity.

There is a long winter still ahead of us and a lot of work to be done. But there is light, too.

This year has shown that when we, as a community, pull together we can begin to move forward in solving many of our most persistent challenges; we can raise strong, healthy children; and we can unite to build a stronger, more resilient and more equitable Worcester County.