Person holding a compass in their hand, Skils'kin logo in top left

Following Our True North Despite COVID-19

Author: Mary Stevenson, VP of State Programs, Skils’kin

When COVID-19 hit and the governor declared a state of emergency, we found ourselves facing something we had never encountered before. Despite my over 15 years in the social service profession, and the combined centuries of experiences of my team, we found ourselves looking at a challenge that none of us had faced ever before.

As we started to learn more about the virus and the level of social distancing it would take to slow the spread, so many thoughts ran through my mind; what would the immediate impact be and what are the long-lasting implications? Information was changing minute to minute and instantaneous adaptation was needed. The initial thoughts centered around how to provide the highest quality services while keeping everyone safe. How can we maintain the relationships we have with those we serve, continue their progress toward real and meaningful goals, and how do we help our now deemed essential workers in the community and assure they had supports to maintain employment? We planned out several options; no longer providing services was never an option, nor was it discussed. We soon learned this was not the approach every provider took, in fact, several agencies stopped providing services immediately and some are still closed today.

When I announced to my team that we were going fully remote, effective immediately, I could see on their faces they realized the depth of the situation. Every person on the team went home and started contacting clients and informing them that our doors at our physical address would be closed. We would be supporting them with remote services, but our dedication and the support we provide to them would not waiver. We assured them we are there for them and in this together with them. We confirmed that we would continue working on goals and have regular contact. Our commitment to serve meant a great deal to each of them.

In the same way, my thoughts swirled around what the evolution of our services were about to undergo to meet the new needs. I saw those around me focus on that same goal. The Leadership team at Skils’kin was not slowing down services, instead we focused on continued growth and opportunity. We are bound to the mission in such a way that when this disaster struck, it was a muscle memory response to adapt and serve. This group of people are at Skils’kin because of that belief.

It is not every day that you get the opportunity to know what you are genuinely made of.
It is not every day that you find out how dedicated your team truly is to the mission.
It is not every day that you find out what is truly at the center of your organization. 

The state and federal funding partners did not immediately issue guidance on how services were to be delivered. Even without knowing how we were moving forward, we were still all driven to continue following the mission. The mission is who we are, and nothing, not even a global pandemic could change who we are at our core, nor could it change our grit. In this moment, I realized how deep our commitment lives and that it is our true north. Without pause or hesitation, we all knew we would find solutions because our “why” drives us. We have been building our plane while in flight. We empowered our employment team to find ways to adapt services as they focused on serving their clients to include investing in technology that would make remote services accessible.

Dedication isn’t just in our employees, but our clients as well. Clients are working in health care, grocery stores, laundry facilities, and providing essential services on our military bases; they never faltered in their commitment to their employment. Employment is powerful. Employment is a connection to our community.

Now, a little over 90 days later, we have rolled out an “In It to Win It” client employment development program that elevates our services to the next level. It is now the cornerstone of our training and job readiness program. We are implementing an individual goal-centered curriculum as a tool for job readiness with a focus on essential worker skills for those wanting to work during the pandemic and support their communities. This program is built with the individual client in mind with a fully tailored curriculum for each individual we serve. This is just the beginning.

We see the possibilities that remote services brings and we realize we are going to need to utilize this format for some time to varying degrees. We will not tread water and wait for the storm to pass. We will continue to innovate and collaborate to drive our services and capabilities even further. We will continue to adapt and provide the highest quality supports and services.

Over the next several months, as our community rebuilds and reopens, it will be the dedicated employees and businesses that will lead to recovery. After the 2008 recession, it was employment services that were matched opportunities from the communities with valued, talented employees and helped facilitate the turnaround in local economies. Today, we are committed to finding those opportunities for the people we serve and supporting them to find their “why.”

Now I know. Now I know who I am, who my team is, who Skils’kin is, and what our shared true north is. You may think you know who you are and what you stand for; when you are ultimately tested and you do not bend, you do not waiver, then you genuinely know. It is humbling. It is life-affirming. It is the gift of insight.

We are Skils’kin. We know our true north. We understand the value of work.

We have been here for 50 years and we are poised to remain a cornerstone for many more to come.

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