Practicing grace in challenging times
The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has presented Newberg – and the world – with unprecedented challenges. Our health care system is being stretched and experts are predicting the peak in cases is still some weeks away. Our economy has been severely disrupted and the United States is experiencing record unemployment. Social distancing has gone from an obscure term to a mantra.
At this time, it is hard to predict when we will return to normal.
Coincidentally, this unprecedented time has coincided with my first weeks as Newberg city manager. I arrived from Colorado to start work with the city on Feb. 24. Typically, a city manager's first few months on a job are focused on learning about the organization and the community. I knew that when I arrived in Newberg that I would be busy, but I had no idea that after only a few weeks into my job I would be handed a global pandemic.
As someone in transition between states and with a family finishing up school in Colorado, my immediate life had been planned for social distance. As a "geographic bachelor" for a few months I had planned trips back and forth to maintain connection with my family. Coronavirus has eliminated those plans – including attending my younger son's birthday this week. I know community members are facing far worse than a missed birthday, so I remind myself to put that in perspective. Our response to the virus centers on individual sacrifices in order to protect vulnerable community members.
Grace is the word that comes to my mind in these times – goodwill toward others. Grace in the face of an invisible killer can feel strange and abstract. You might ask yourself, "Why am I being asked not to see friends or family?" or "Can't I go to work or to the coast?" The answers are that your brief moment of grace can be the difference between life and death for someone else. This is in no way minimizing the impact of this moment on individuals, businesses and our collective mental health. Allow yourself grace in these weeks of isolation and disruption.
Coronavirus has a global scale and the response to the pandemic has moved so quickly it is easy to lose your bearings and become fearful. At the city I know as I make every choice I must keep our most vulnerable populations at top of mind and that there will be a substantial impact to the business sectors in both Newberg and Yamhill County. But above all, while observing social distancing, we can come together with community spirit to serve and support one another. Grace for our businesses can still mean financial action through take-out or delivery meals, online orders, purchase of gift cards or financial contributions.
It would be easy to get overwhelmed with the volatility and uncertainty of the last couple of weeks. Instead, my takeaway from my first month as city manager is how much people have stepped up and willingly adapted to fight this virus. I had been told that Newberg is full of engaged organizations and passionate volunteers– it was a key reason I accepted the position with the city – but a crisis really brings out peoples' true colors. I have been incredibly impressed with the grace of our council, city staff, community partners and residents.
Mayor Rick Rogers and the City Council have stepped in to coordinate a community response while I have tried to coordinate the city's organizational actions. I cannot count the number of contacts that councilors have had with partner agencies and individuals leading our coordination effort with the faith, nonprofit and business sectors.
We have held numerous calls to share ideas and resources. We have altered our service delivery model to mostly online or phone service. We closed our doors to the public in an effort to protect public health and assure our essential functions can continue (law enforcement, water and wastewater). We have dedicated city staff doing everything they can to ensure our services continue without interruption.
This first month as city manager was not what I expected and understand we are just at the beginning of this crisis. Looking forward, the city will continue doing what we can to connect resources, share information and provide the community our services. The Newberg community has already proved a willingness to offer grace in a trying time. Your patience may be tested moment-to-moment as we weather this crisis, but try to keep perspective that we all carry different loads and offer others respect and grace – we can all use a break. Most importantly, give yourself grace and perspective that this too shall pass.
I look forward to getting to know the community more in coming months and years as we weather this time together.
Dan Weinheimer is Newberg city manager
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