Article by YMCA- Advertorial
Twelve days before the Governor enacted her Stay Home order, the Eugene Family YMCA shut its doors to deep clean because an employee who was sent home sick was being tested for COVID-19. Even after the employee’s negative test result, the Y’s doors didn’t open again to the public until Wednesday, June 3.
Closing its doors is extraordinarily unusual for the Eugene Y. Before coronavirus, a storm that dumped feet of snow on Eugene in one night caused the most significant closure of the Y in recent history — for 2 1/2 days in 2019.
Closed doors normally mean a temporary halt in operations and a pause in programs and services. For a member-based organization whose very mission is to promote healthy living and foster community, the Y knew it needed to evolve and adjust to continue to carry out its mission and put the community first.
There was, in fact, not a halt, but a shift in programs and services during coronavirus — to virtual fitness and outreach over the phone to address isolation and depression.
For providers of child care, it was obvious from those very first days that closing schools and some businesses significantly increased the need for child care.
The Y, in partnership with local school districts and the city of Eugene, mapped out a plan to offer free child care to workers who needed it most: first responders, medical professionals and essential workers.
It was no easy task, even with decades of experience as Lane County’s largest child care provider. Not only did Y Youth Development staff need to outline safety parameters when scientists had (and still have) so much to learn about the virus, its spread and its effects, but they also had to work with a population used to being encouraged to share, play together and gather in a circle. For 13 weeks, Y staff created and then refined a child care program unlike any they had run before.
Children were dropped off outside of the building; families not permitted inside in order to limit the spread of germs. Backpacks and other belongings were separated into individual laundry baskets — feet apart from each other. Children sat at big tables with only one other peer, used markers and toys from a container exclusively for one kid and got their own pool noodle for the day. The pool noodle is staff’s creative way to keep kids 6 feet apart while they play tag and other running and jumping games.
Despite the stress of keeping kids apart, sanitizing everything touched multiple times a day, and ensuring that kids used their brains and big muscle groups — Y staff kept the programs fun. And then when the Governor announced schools were closed for the rest of the school year, Y staff pivoted to aid students with distance learning from their teachers.
It was difficult work — work that continues through the summer. But it is ultimately the Y’s most rewarding work there is no better way for the Y to step up than to care for the community’s most precious members while their families stand on the front lines during a crisis.
Even though the Eugene Family YMCA has never experienced a global pandemic before, the organization’s 133 years of service prepared it for exactly this: a swift socially responsible reaction.
Traded sector businesses are crucial for the growth of a local economy. Joshua Mongé, Director of Economic Development for the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce explains it this way, “Companies like Yogi Tea and Western Shelter make a product here and then sell the product all over the world. This brings new money to the local economy.”
“The vast majority of our products go outside Oregon,” says Michael Scala, President and CEO of Western Shelter and Crew Boss. “We’ve grown the business substantially in the last four years and expect to be able to continue that trajectory into the next five.”
From the aftermath of deadly hurricanes and natural disasters, to mobile field hospitals in conflict zones, Western Shelter systems are literally covering people around the world when they’re at their most vulnerable. “We could be located anywhere,” says Scala, “but we choose to be in Eugene.”
Like Western Shelter, Yogi Tea is innately international. “From the beginning, our founder Yogi Bhajan’s purpose was to make the specially formulated, functional teas available to every person on the planet. It’s why we exist,” explains Sat Bir Khalsa, the Director of Global Community Relations and Human Resources for Yogi.
Wayfair recently opened a customer service and sales center in Springfield. The company credits their global reach, with the import and export of ideas, as a key factor in strengthening its team.“Our open communication and leadership structure across the entire organization allows for each location to share its successes and adopt new ideas quickly. We have a lot of flexibility to try new things,” says Joel Johnson, Wayfair Site Director.
These three companies provide hundreds of jobs for the local economy. But the paychecks alone only tell part of the local impact story.
As an example, Wayfair gives each employee eight paid hours a year to volunteer for any organization of their choice.
“We want each employee to take full advantage of this benefit,” says Johnson. “We actively cultivate new relationships with local nonprofit organizations so we can connect our people to opportunities that inspire them.” The aggregate number of volunteer hours is substantial— at full capacity, Wayfair employees will have more than 4,000 to give.
“We’ve been particularly successful here because our values as a company align with those of the community,” Johnson explains.
“Eugene-Springfield is absolutely the right place for us. We’re proud that the rest of the company is looking at our location for ideas about employee volunteerism and community engagement.”
Western Shelter’s clients and customers depend on problem solving and design thinking its staff provides for extreme or austere environments. Because Western Shelter hires smart, pays well and provides an engaging and rewarding environment, employees are loyal.
“We’ve got more than 130 employees,” Scala says. “They’re ready and able to respond to urgent requests from all over the world. It’s important our clients and customers can trust our team to build solutions that work right the first time and solve their problems.”
Yogi Tea’s local impact comes from its investments in employees through good-paying, living wage jobs and nonprofit programs as well. “Our employees are giving us most of their awake time,” Khalsa explains. “We honor that.”
One of Yogi Tea’s most significant investments is their new facility in west Eugene—the only LEED-certified tea manufacturing facility in the world.
"Committing to LEED certification is an investment in the community,” Khalsa says. To achieve LEED certification, you must source a high percentage of your materials and labor locally, divert waste from the landfill and focus on the long-term environmental impact of the building. The $25 million building provided construction jobs and new and expanded positions at the company.
Global companies are important to local communities because they bring the world a little closer to home. We access new ideas, processes, products and ways of doing things that may not be here in this market.
Eugene-Springfield has a unique combination of values and historical precedence that allows it to contribute to the global community in a unique way.
By building companies like Wayfair, Yogi Tea and Western Shelter here, people from our community are sharing their values and priorities with these companies. New ideas and process could be developed here and ultimately impact the brand culture and processes.
Eugene-based companies are making their mark in global business and our community is richer for it.
“We’ve been particularly successful here because our values as a company align with those of the community.” - Joel Johnson, Site Director for Wayfair.
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