We found courage through Corona; let’s lead with it into the New Year

A new year feels overdue. We all yearn for a fresh start. Yet, because we cannot know when the pandemic will cease, we must remember that every time has a purpose.

Personally, in the middle of one of the toughest global crises in modern history, I still look parents in the eyes and promise: “ETTA will be a family for your son or daughter with disabilities, forever.”

I say that because I know, as a psychologist and the Executive Director of ETTA, a non-profit that supports adults with intellectual and development disabilities, the number one fear of a parent of an adult child with disabilities is “What will happen after I’m gone?”

And I am able to answer confidently, even during these challenging times, because if I’ve learned anything through my work, it’s that the only way to meet these moments is with courage—the courage to stand behind your commitments, convictions, and community.

In my experience, with that courage comes the ability to take necessary action. That’s the powerful message we’ve learned this past year as a more compassionate community bonded by challenge.

As this pandemic has unfolded, ETTA, based in Los Angeles, responded with these two elements—courage and action—at each stage.

When LA County’s “Safer at Home” measures were in place, ETTA created two joyful, interactive Zoom programs per day and facilitated 1:1 contact via email and phone.

As quarantine measures eased, clients with serious underlying health risks continued to receive services online and over the phone, while others returned to in-person programs—with extensive safety protocols in place.

These protocols included raising private funds for PPE and creating an “e-check” app that includes symptom checklist and temperature taking. We also appointed an internal Safety Committee that developed a guidebook in compliance with CDC, L.A. County Public Health, and the Regional Centers.

With this paradigm and preparation, while many day camp programs were forced to cancel this year, ours, Summer@ETTA, was able to open.

The framework was different: shorter hours, more activities out-of-doors, smaller groups.

But the joy was the same.

Clients and counselors cheered each other on, celebrated birthdays, and put on plays of the weekly Torah portion. They built friendships and drove by to visit others who could not attend in person.

ETTA responded to the situation with courage—and found a way to act.

And we are not alone.

Jewish Federations and Foundations around the country, like our own Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, have rolled out financial relief programs—even as they suffer budget cuts and furloughs.

Hospitals, doctors, nurses and others in the health care fields demonstrate true heroism on a daily basis—even as they battle the pandemic on the frontlines.

Social service agencies that combat abuse, poverty, hunger and more are keeping their doors open—even as needs keep rising.

Organizations and individuals with the courage to continue envisioning a better future, to move forward despite uncertainty, to continue planning for the community—that’s what leadership looks like right now.

Last month, ETTA announced a new partnership with Cornerstone Housing for Adults with Disabilities in creating The Village, a trailblazing housing community for adults with disabilities that allows for independent living while providing access to a variety of supportive, social services.

In the wake of that announcement we have received generous and encouraging communal support but also, perhaps, a touch of surprise: how can you continue pursuing a vision for a project like this during such uncertain times?

It is, indeed, the courage of our convictions—the certainty that with the will, there will be a way to move forward.

And Cornerstone is succeeding – the project has raised more than $8 million so far, secured prime real estate for the development, and is moving steadily through the City of Los Angeles’ planning process.

As we finally turn the page to year 5781, how do we harness this transformative ethos on an individual level and as a community? I believe the answer lies in our capacity to give, in our generosity of spirit. The more we can think outside of ourselves, the more courage we will find in this moment—and the more strength we will have to meet it.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Held is the executive director of ETTA, a leading disabilities service provider in LA, rooted in Jewish values.
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