Ordinarily one Friday every July, the Community Action Partnership of Providence closes for the day and staff gathers at a state park in a gazebo.

There’s a potluck lunch and drink provided by both the agency and employees. Staffs family is invited to attend. There’s music and laughter and a general mood of celebrating each other’s successes. It’s an All-Staff meeting, work is discussed; ideas and plans for the future are presented but it’s a much more casual and warm atmosphere than a regular staff meeting that includes volleyball and typically ends in a water balloon fight.

But nothing about 2020 has been ordinary.

Instead of a summer day in the park, staff members met up in September on the large wide open grounds of our Broad Street location. There are too many employees to meet indoors all at once, so everyone was instructed to wear masks, maintain a six-foot distance from each other and stand outside. Social distancing has become standard procedure but it was still difficult for co-workers to socialize while the sound of their voices was muffled by masks and soaked up by the autumn sky.

And then came the drizzle. A mist that was just annoying enough to fog up everyone’s glasses but not enough to need to adjourn the meeting for a sunnier day.

Executive Director Rilwan Feyisitan, Jr. is not a man who needs a megaphone. His voice carried to all 50 staff members as he gave praise to everyone for the way they came together to ensure the CAPP’s mission of supporting 33,000 Providence residents living at or below the poverty line continued in the face of the global COVID-19 health crisis.

“We serve residents in need, people in crisis and (COVID-19) has put extra pressure and stress on everyone. But, I’m proud of how our staff has come through and come together to support our Providence residents and families in need,” he said.

Proceeding to praise the agency’s hard-working staff in how they adjusted to the “new normal” operations and procedures, Feyisitan presented several members of staff with special commendations for going above and beyond.

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Supervisor Eskalina, who started with CAPP as a volunteer and has steadily climbed the ladder, was praised for always maintaining a positive attitude and serving the LIHEAP department with distinction.

Receptionists, Grisell (Gini) and Virginia were celebrated for being the first point of contact for every individual who enter the building. On top of her regular duties, Gini (one of CAPP’s longest-serving employees) has been helping to deliver meals to members of CAPP’s senior program who are no longer able to gather for communal meals at 807 Broad Street. Virginia is known for being a perpetually helpful and cheery presence behind the reception desk and has always been willing to take on new tasks and responsibilities in her job and excels at every turn.

To say that the coronavirus outbreak has CAPP’s one-man maintenance staff busier than ever before would be a massive understatement. Yet, Jose rises to the occasion, keeping the main building’s doorknobs, railings and high-touch surfaces are sanitized, ensuring the dispensers of hand soap and sanitizer are full in addition to his regular duties. Jose has also been helping to deliver meals and supplemental food pantryitems to isolated seniors and disabled or immunocompromised residents.

No agency program can run seamlessly without a support staff who is capable of thinking quickly and being adaptable. CAPP’s Weatherization and AMP program is no exception. State-issued guidelines and mandates have affected most programs but perhaps none as much as Weatherization. Auditors for a time were unable to enter residents’ homes to perform their work. However, virtual audits and boiler replacements continued in emergency situations only as COVID spread. Any time a roadblock or unexpected complication has arisen, Weatherization Clerk Joy-L has come up with options and presented solutions making her an invaluable member of the CAPP team.

Congratulations Eskalina, Gini, Virginia, Jose and Joy-L!

As a way of trying to keep gatherings small, the meeting was held in two sections, the main staffers partook in the early session. They were treated to food cooked on the grill for them by CAPPs Executive Director. An Ice-cream truck was rented for them and then they were allowed to have the rest of the day off. The Management Team stayed for the latter half of the meeting. They received a highly informative briefing on the recent changes to COVID-19 era guidelines and mandates from the HR department and were able to ask questions about virus symptoms, knowing when to call out of work if they or someone at home was sick and other protection measures.

In a fleeting moment of normality, the management team was later able to engage in some socially-distanced games and pizza after the awards were presented. Intentional or not, the metaphoric symbolism of antipoverty employees playing giant Jenga during a pandemic wasn’t lost on anyone.