Our Office Was Closed, but Our Hearts Remained Open

By Gordon McHenry, Jr., on March 9, 2022 | In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, Fighting Homelessness, Racial Equity

This week, most of us at United Way of King County are returning to our office for work for the first time since March 5, 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced us, and much of the country, to abandon our in-person protocols and work primarily from home. As much of the country discovered during the work-from-home period, we pivoted, we improvised, we adjusted: We’ve continued to be an organization that strives to improve the lives of those who have no homes or jobs; those in need of food, rental assistance, education resources or simply an assurance that someone has genuine concerns for their well-being.

And as COVID restrictions are relaxing statewide and many workers are returning to offices, we realize we’re not the organization we were pre-COVID: We’ve said goodbye to many of our longstanding colleagues and hello to newer ones; we’ve crafted a new strategic plan roadmap that we will unveil publicly later this year; and we’ve done our best to respond to the everchanging world around us: Since we left our office for our homes, the U.S. has a new president, Seattle has a new mayor, and pillars of democracy in the U.S. are now in jeopardy.

And sadly, it took Russia’s war against Ukraine to unite our polarized nation.

The return from our two-year departure from in-person work is a sign of perseverance, resilience and hope.  Yet there are parts of our community devastated by the harm that is occurring and the triggering of generational trauma and fear that we could find ourselves once more in a war that spreads widely and rapidly. Moreover, there are powerful connections to that part of the world right here, in our local community. In fact, as we are ever mindful of King County’s rich ethnic, cultural and racial diversity, we know that, for some immigrants and refugees here, the war is horribly reminiscent to what they’ve gone through before.

Flag of Ukraine

World Population Review reported in September of 2021 that there were 21 countries at war— including civil wars, wars between nations, and terrorist insurgencies. Russia’s war against Ukraine adds to the all-too-familiar horrors of people killed, cities destroyed, communities displaced and lifelong triggers of traumatic distress.

We feel it here in King County. There are people here with familial ties to that region, those who wonder whether their loved ones were among the more than 2.1 million refugees who have already left Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began or among the scores of African immigrants who reportedly have often been denied exits because of the color of their skin. 

We at United Way speak about racial justice, and we do so because we exist in the United States. But abuse of power, particularly that which targets people based on their identity, race, ethnicity or geography, is a grave concern to us. Whenever or wherever such injustices occur, we believe we must call them out while offering support to those directly and indirectly affected by them.

We would like to take a moment to urge peace and ask for you all to be aware of organizations right here in King County that are supporting people whose lives may be affected by Russia’s war. Those agencies include the Ukrainian Association of Washington State in Renton, the Ukrainian Community Center of Washington in Seattle, First Ukrainian Baptist Church in Federal Way, Lutheran Community Services Northwest in SeaTac and Jewish Family Service in Seattle.

We exist fundamentally to provide justice for those who are furthest from it. When we see a lack of justice we recognize it as a challenge to the kind of world we aspire to. We hope you will join us in shining the light on injustice, reflecting on it and acting upon it. Our offices have been closed for two years, but our hearts and minds have remained open to the possibility of realizing a King County where everyone feels supported, resources are shared equitably and injustice has no place.


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