Alice Graham: Reflections on Service

(Reprinted with permission from the Winter issue of Changing Tides, the news magazine of Back Bay Mission.)

Alice Graham, Ph.D.

By Alice Graham, Ph.D., Executive Director, Back Bay Mission

Everything must change
Nothing stays the same
Everyone must change
Nothing stays the same

(Lyrics from Everything Must Change by George Benson)

As I write my final “Changing Tides” article, I am so in touch with the meaning of these words. This year, 2020, has been an exercise in change. Here at Back Bay Mission, we have had to learn how to use technology to continue to serve our guests and clients.

Utility assistance is handled by phone and online. We have made a temporary change in allowable amounts for utility assistance, given the impact of the pandemic on the ways that power companies are working with their clients. We have reduced the number of people that can be in the Micah Center and the Admin Building while waiting for services. Housing Recovery, with the loss of volunteers, had to use paid contractors to complete work on rehabs begun before the pandemic. Gulf Coast Housing Initiatives, in the absence of volunteers, has also had to use paid contractors to complete housing renovations and new construction.

We are looking at other models for funding housing recovery that would be more empowering for the clients that we serve. Coast residents continue to use our food pantry, which had to become less choice due to health safety issues. The Emergency Assistance manager and the volunteers have found new ways to determine what foods are wanted by clients, so that when a bag of food is handed to them, it contains what they want.

The changes necessitated by the pandemic have caused us as a staff to reassess our commitments and identify new ways to express our core values. For example, the annual Hunger Homeless Meal offered to the community, provided by the Hard Rock, had to be outdoors rather than folk sitting comfortably at tables decorated for the holiday. Hard Rock staff served 300 masked people waiting patiently socially distanced to pick up a sturdy to-go box filled with a delicious traditional Thanksgiving meal. Yes, the event changed, but still let this too-often-forgotten community know that they are seen.

The Board of Directors hosted a virtual retirement celebration for me that was very different from the one that had been planned. It was wonderful! A Zoom Retirement Party that acknowledged my work and leadership. WOW!

I have learned this year, over and over again, that the meaning and purpose of what we do is more important than the traditions/trappings that surround meaning and purpose. To continue Back Bay Mission’ s mission to Strengthen Neighborhoods, to Seek Justice, to Transform Lives through this pandemic we have had to develop new forms, processes, create new options.

The young become the old,
Mysteries do unfold.
Cause that’s the way of time
Nothing and no one goes unchanged.

(Lyrics from Everything Must Change by George Benson)

Back Bay Mission will have new leadership. Over the years, Back Bay Mission has shown resilience in adapting and growing itself anew to meet the needs of changing populations with the perspective of fresh eyes, fresh perspectives, expanded ideas. This tradition will continue.

Rain comes from the clouds
And sun lights up the sky,
And hummingbirds do fly.

(Lyrics from Everything Must Change by George Benson)

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All are welcome to join our dear friend and former colleague, the Rev. George Graham, as he is installed as pastor of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland. The service of installation will be live-streamed at ... See MoreSee Less
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