I love you, nonprofit colleagues. Please give yourselves a break. – Nonprofit AF

[Image description: A bulldog, dressed in a Santa suit and reindeer antlers, lays sleeping, facing the camera. Floor and background are bright red. Image by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash]

Hi everyone, this will be the last post of 2021 (I’ll be back on January 3rd), and it might be a little more personal and disjointed than other posts, apologies in advance. As the year ends, I try to find time to reflect back on what happened these past 12 months, and what lessons we could glean so that we can improve ourselves and our sector. But I am very tired. I don’t want to learn anything, except maybe that sweat pants and pajama bottoms should be perfectly acceptable to wear to the office from now on.

This year was hell. The last several years were hell. A weird, surreal sort of hell. Amidst this pandemic, I was going through a divorce while supporting loved ones dealing with addiction and various mental health challenges. Rifling through my brain brings random memories, one of me trying to figure out how to help my seven-year-old with his remote math assignment while his four-year-old brother was standing on our porch screaming at strangers, “You’re not wearing your masks! There’s coronavirus! Put your masks on!”   

Flash forward to emergency room visits in the middle of the night. Flash forward to me attending an Al-Anon meeting where I was telling the group how I had this urge to organize my pantry. “Everywhere there’s pain and chaos,” I said, “but by Jove, my cans of beans will be sorted by color!” The group chuckled. “Vu,” said the facilitator, “I notice you sometimes use humor to deflect. How are you really doing?”

That question stuck with me. How are any of us really doing? A friend of mine, a single mom, had her car’s catalytic converter stolen, setting her back $1,500 when she could barely afford food. I know colleagues who have had Covid; friends who have been struggling with chronic pain, cancer, and other illnesses; those taking care of small children or aging parents or both; people battling constant loneliness and isolation; disabled colleagues trying to navigate an endlessly hostile world; neighbors trying to keep financially afloat; those who are mourning the loss of loved ones. And then there are so many people whose battles are unseen, whose struggles we will never know about.

On top of our personal challenges, our sector has been dealing with funding shortage and various other issues, and there has been the generalized anxiety from the relentless cruelty and injustice in the world. I know very few people who have not had a shitty year. (If that’s you, that’s wonderful. Please don’t feel any guilt; it’s good for us all to know that some folks are doing OK).

I bring all this up because as I reflect on 2021, I am deeply appreciative of our sector and our community. I know I spend a lot of the year ranting about everything that’s wrong with our sector, but I am also truly grateful for the people in it. In the midst of everything we’ve been dealing with, we still managed to be there for one another and for people who need us. Nonprofits still ran vital programs and services. Orgs and individuals sponsored and supported refugee families. A colleague collected money to buy shoes for neighbors experiencing homelessness. Another made dinners and provided a warm and safe few hours to hungry and neglected kids. The community pooled funds for my friend who had her catalytic converter stolen. Even as our “surge capacity” was depleted, we still set aside time and energy to help and bring hope to so many.

However, all of us have been so focused on survival, on keeping it together so we could be there for those who need us, that we’ve sometimes neglected our own needs. Because so many other people are in crisis in our communities, and our sector’s job is to help lessen the suffering, many of us haven’t carved out much time to rest and to process. Or to mourn and grieve for what we’ve lost personally and collectively. I don’t think the weight of everything has really hit us.

This year has been rough. Things are not what they used to be. They haven’t been for a very long time, and they likely will never be again. What remains unchanged, and what gives me hope, is our unwavering vision of a just and inclusive world, and our resolve to make it happen despite the tides of inequity. This vision is not possible without you, all that you do, and all that you are.

As the year wraps up, I hope you will find time to rest and recharge if you can. Hang out with those you love. Do things that bring you joy. Be as kind and generous and forgiving with yourself as you have been with the people around you.

I also know the holidays can be very difficult for many of us, these last few holidays in particular. If you are mourning loved ones, battling loneliness, facing depression, going through a divorce, caring for babies or aging parents, have had a falling out with your family, are in recovery, or dealing with any combination of things, please remember that you are not alone. Please get help when you need it; you have more people who care about you than you know.

Things have been hard. We will get through it together, and our community will be better because of us. I love you, and I am grateful for you. Please take care of yourself. I will see you in 2022.

Here are some ways you can help folks in Kentucky after the devastating tornadoes. Colleagues in KY, we’re all thinking of you.