People ask us all the time, what are you doing? What have you done? How are you making an impact? Those are good and valid questions, and there’s another line of questioning that I think may be even more important but aren’t often on our radar. How is the community being empowered? How are individuals and families growing in hope? How are we helping leaders grow and partnerships thrive? How are we living God’s love today?

We’ve had many discussions this year about community empowerment. Empowerment can be defined, in general, as the capacity of individuals, groups and/or communities to gain control of their circumstances and achieve their own goals, thereby working towards helping themselves and others to maximize the quality of their lives. Unless an individual, group or community is empowered, any effort to transform well-being is unsustainable. We’ve all seen countless examples of initiatives and programs driven by well-meaning organizations that come into a community, work for a few years, and when they leave it is like a finger in the water glass – as though they were never there. Our strategies and investments must intentionally prioritize building local empowerment if we are to fulfill our calling of empowering everyone, everywhere to live longer, better.

This year we found ourselves in the middle of a pandemic. As a nation, we believed we would only be affected by quarantine for two weeks. Six months later, we’re looking back and seeing just how significantly the pandemic affected the well-being of our communities beyond being physically ill. Many people lost income, lost the means to buy groceries or pay bills. Mental well-being has plummeted, homeless numbers have skyrocketed–the list goes on. Where we see the light shining through this time is the optimism and strength of community leaders. Despite the personal challenges each of our community integration team members have faced over the past months, I’ve seen each of you find new stores of resilience allowing you to lead with greater insight, creativity and compassion.

At the onset of COVID-19, Adventist Health dedicated funding to support community partner organizations and local initiatives serving the most vulnerable during this health crisis. These emergency funds were used to support new and tenured programs, deliver vital services and share best practices with other communities. We’ve read about some of the projects coming out of these grants, like Adventist Health White Memorial’s quick response in pulling together 20 organizations to meet the first wave of needs in Boyle Heights; and Adventist Health Castle’s partnership with Hui Mahi’ai ‘Aina to build a tiny home village for the homeless of Waimanalo. There are many more of our leaders supporting their communities by connecting much needed resources with community partners.

Adventist Health Portland has seen demand for meals in the community increase from 900/day to 1,500/day due to the pandemic. Adventist Health Bakersfield has given $20,000 to provide food, short-term lodging and transportation to those in need. Adventist Health St. Helena has donated funds to emergency relief for individuals who are ineligible for a CARES Act stimulus check, unemployment or other government benefits, as well as waived co-pays for mental health services and telephone/video services to all vulnerable clients, free of charge.

This is the impact we see coming from our communities. While we, the Roseville team, are the base of the pyramid–creating the space and foundation for our team members to fly–we are not the heroes of this story. You are. It’s not about what WE are doing. It’s about YOU, your work, and the impact you make in your communities that helps us all live God’s love today and everyday. We have watched you all hit the ground running with the challenges COVID-19 has brought, and we are proud to stand behind you.

Take a deeper dive into how the Community Strength and Catalyst Grant funds have been deployed in our communities in our comprehensive summary here.