In hard times, we found inspiring neighbors

While these past 10 months have tested everyone, we have all been tested differently and to vastly varying degrees.

My heart aches about the suffering that so many people are experiencing, and I know we still have a way to go. This is going to be a very difficult winter for the basics of health, housing and food. Please do take care of yourself and those around you.

One way I will take care of myself this winter is to ski in the woods, and often at night. As with those treks, I know that even during darkness, the most subtle light can inspire vision and hope.

Some of the brightest moments in 2020 for me have been the steady stream of neighbor-helping-neighbor stories that reflect how communities work. I have written about how resident ownership stands on this strong footing. I experience the power of this, and firmly believe in it as a deeply important part of what it means to be neighbors.

Quote: Hope is being able to see the light despite all of the darkness.
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Case in point: A Vermont ROC leader said of their informal meal donation program brought about because of the pandemic, “We said from the beginning, ‘We’ll be doing this until we’re COVID-19 free.’ We had no idea we’d be doing meals for this long, but it’s really important for us to band together and be a community.”

Their light is not subtle; it is very bright, and examples like it exist from coast to coast.

It is during the hardest times that the ideal of community gets tested, and once again, community is passing the test. Neighbors matter.

ROC USA also operates within a sphere of organizations and people – neighbors of sorts – and many helped us stand strongly with the communities we serve this year. They helped us step up with enhanced financial and training and coaching support in 2020.

We have provided direct financial support to 27 COVID-infected households, 27 community grants for community projects, and four liquidity loans to co-ops suffering from rent losses.

The ROC USA Network also provided an array of online and creative solutions to training and technical assistance because operating democratic co-ops while social distancing is anything but a cake walk. It takes dedicated co-op leaders doing what they do – serving their communities – and some occasional support from a Network of dedicated experts.

Remarkably, Network helped 13 co-ops – including nine since May – acquire their communities. That is half the number that purchased in 2019 but impressive during a pandemic without question.

ROC USA leaned in with the full support of the ROC USA and ROC Association Boards of Directors. Our Board – led by Chair, Andrea Levere and Vice Chair, Lauren Counts along with the three Association Directors – Lorie Cahill, Marjory Gilsrud and Kim Capen – never wavered. Everyone was out to prove ROCs are resilient. I reported to them this month, “So far, so good!”

I kept a special list of supporters who stepped up since March on a sticky note labeled, “COVID-GRAMS.” I wasn’t sure how I would appreciate them, but I knew I wanted to.

When I need an egg in a pinch, I call a neighbor. When one needs a million-dollar loan so The Asociaciòn de Residentes de North Lamar (ARNL) in Austin, Texas can acquire their community, there is a relatively short list of people someone like me can call.

Some of these neighbors provided direct investment and others leveraged their networks to introduce us to new potential investors. Everyone was already super busy. I am eternally grateful to those who cared enough about the communities we serve to help this year:

Carolyn Watson at JP Morgan Chase; Greg Neichen at Ceniarth; Amy Brusiloff and Charlie Henderson at Bank of America; Ben Bynum at Colorado Health Foundation; Krystian Reyes and Paul Ettorre at Woodforest National Bank; Erin Rose and Samantha Yates at Santander Bank; Casey Fannon and Anne Fedorchak at the National Co-op Bank; Christine Looney at the Ford Foundation; Catherine Godschalk at Calvert Impact Capital; Eileen Fitzgerald and Connie Wright at Wells Fargo; Amir Kirkwood at Opportunity Finance Network; Daniel Ramirez and Monica Magalhaes at Capital Impact Partners; John Hamilton at the NH Community Loan Fund; Sarah Kackar at NeighborWorks® America; and the staff at the CDFI Fund at the U.S. Department of Treasury.

These neighbors and more are helping us advance our mission with vigor and support ROCs in important ways. Thank you.

By standing shoulder-to-shoulder with diverse communities, we are building faith in one another and expanding neighborhood- and Network-based cooperation. These connections and neighborhoods are where we all shine bright.

I am hopeful because we have good neighbors.