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CEO Chris Coleman Reflects on the Pandemic Year

CEO Chris Coleman Reflects on the Pandemic Year

One year ago, I spent a good portion of my Saint Patrick’s Day in the Atlanta airport. It is not the place that any proud Irishman wants to spend that particular holiday. My wife Connie and I were returning from Central America. What was supposed to be a Global Village trip to Guatemala turned into a rather odd vacation—cut short by the fear that they were about to close the borders back into the U.S.

In the planes, the custom lines, the gate areas, we were filled with fear and uncertainty. Getting back to the safe, stable home we loved never felt more important.

Chris Coleman wearing a mask on a Habitat construction siteChris Coleman at a Habitat build site in 2020.

Over What’sApp calls from Antigua, our leadership team made the decision to suspend operations and shut down facilities until we could figure out how to adapt to COVID-19 (read our current plan here). Our main office building in St. Paul closed down on March 16, 2020. Construction and repair sites were left without volunteers while field staff continued to finish the houses off or secure them for an extended period of time—then they went home until new protocols were in place. Our ReStore Home Improvement Outlets were closed. Events went “virtual” or were canceled out-right. Toilet paper disappeared off shelves. We retreated to our homes not knowing how long we would be there but never imagining, one year later, we would still be in lock-down.

Connie and I spent 14 days in isolation after returning home and called every teenager we knew looking for someone to buy groceries for us. When we ventured outside for a walk, we winced every time someone walked within 20 feet of us. We turned on public radio at 5:00 on Fridays and sang the communal song and noticed no one else was singing along (I’m glad that didn’t last long).

Our son came home from Denver. Our daughter came home from Boston. We didn’t know why really. We just didn’t know what else to do.

But amidst all the uncertainty, one thing became crystal clear: our home was safe. Even though I’ve talked many times about how foundational a stable home is for everything in our lives, this period of “stay at home” orders made me feel it even more. I hope we never take our homes for granted again and this period galvanizes us to make sure all our neighbors can experience the transformational power of homeownership.

This has been a year of emotions unlike any other. Most importantly, there has been tremendous loss of loved ones. Connie and I have been fortunate to have not lost anyone in our immediate circle. But eventually, parents of friends and spouses of acquaintances succumbed to the virus.

And loss has been measured in many other ways: the isolation we have felt, the toll on our emotional and mental health, milestones passing without proper celebration, to name but a few. We all have our personal perspectives and pain. We grasp for those things that actually haven’t been so bad—“Covid positives” as we jokingly call them. We watched everything Netflix could throw at us. We read more. We walked with friends. We didn’t have to rush out of the house every morning. We saved a lot of miles on our cars.

We also continued the important work of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. We quickly adapted to continue serving Habitat clients in new, virtual ways. We continued to build and repair homes. We opened the expanded New Brighton ReStore, just missing the big celebration it deserved. We continued to embrace the generous community that makes our work possible. And we maintained our financial strength while not laying off one worker for one minute. We must celebrate all of this.

Socially Distanced Volunteers

If you’re a client, volunteer, supporter, team member, or neighbor—I am so grateful for your persistence in the face of adversity.

But, in the end, there is no mistaking it—this has been an awful year. It was only compounded by the murder of George Floyd and the loss of other innocent Black lives.

Now there is a light at the end of the tunnel. With spring upon us and vaccinations becoming commonplace, we can envision a time of normalcy—but I hope that normal looks different from how it did before.

As we come out of a year that changed all our lives, we have an amazing opportunity to reshape our future with the skills we’ve strengthened this year.

We’ve exercised patience with one another throughout this journey. We’ve adapted to changes like never before. And we’ve shown our resilience in the face of overwhelming challenges. I hope our patience, flexibility, and persistence survive beyond all this.

We’ve examined our role in upholding white supremacy and in advancing the fight for racial justice. I hope our commitment to anti-racism grows ever deeper.

We’ve taken time to listen more closely and truly hear what each other is saying. What a wonderful gift it would be to continue connecting to each other with open hearts and minds.

And, of course, we appreciate our homes more than ever before. I hope this gratitude fuels our fight to ensure all our neighbors have a safe, stable place to call home.

A great way to support your neighbors right now is by making a gift to our At Home FundYour gift will protect homeowners and expand homeownership opportunities throughout the pandemic and beyond.

Give to the At Home Fund

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