Patience & Flexibility: Adapting to COVID-19

A Letter from President/CEO & Founder, Chris Manley:

Dear Rebuild Upstate family,

In the early days of our organization, Rebuild Upstate took trips to New Orleans to clean-up and rebuild homes following the devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina. These were large trips – up to a hundred people young and old – and we would typically gather early in the morning to load luggage before piling into a fleet of 15-passenger vans to make the trip.

Once the luggage was loaded in the cargo van and everyone had an assigned van, we would all gather in a really big circle to pray before we journeyed onward. I would take this time to remind everyone what we were about to embark on. We were literally driving into a disaster area. The message I shared went something like this: Tools will likely break. You may not have everything you would back home (including a hot shower). I guaranteed the missioners that at least one thing would not go as planned – and perhaps more. But then I would say, “There is one thing I need each of you to guarantee: that you will have patience and flexibility. If we all have those, we will get through this together.”

This pandemic is not exactly like the literal floods of Hurricane Katrina. But it is a community-changing flood in its own right. COVID-19 does pose its own unique set of challenges for each of us, individually, as families, at work, and at home. Rebuild Upstate has been experiencing its own share of challenges.

In the early months of the pandemic, volunteer groups and group leaders were rightfully cautious about volunteering. Little was known about the spread of the coronavirus or just how long our nation would be affected. In anticipation of less volunteer interest, our team shifted our standard processes to preparing more contractor and handyman club projects than volunteer group projects. In late summer and early fall, we were surprised to see about 60% of the volunteer groups we normally would – still much higher than we thought. In Quarter 4, so far, we’re on track to be close to our normal number of volunteer groups. This is a wonderful challenge to have and we’re so thankful for willing volunteers!!!

Simultaneously, how we get our work done has changed. In pre-pandemic times, volunteer groups could do both outdoor and indoor projects. Most groups have conveyed that they’re not quite ready for indoor projects. While we have a huge need for homes to be repaired, because of the recent focus on outdoor projects, we’re actually having challenges in having enough outdoor projects scoped and ready to go – whereas the need for indoor projects (and projects typically reserved for skilled volunteers or contractors) have a much longer waiting list.

Clearly, all of these challenges are unique and not things we anticipated as we planned for 2020 (which most everyone can relate to). We have more volunteer groups ready to serve than we have outdoor group projects ready for assistance. Our team is working as hard as they can to pivot and find a way for everyone who wants to volunteer to volunteer. It is important, even as we try to shift quickly, to have patience and flexibility.

Our supply chain has also been an interesting journey this year. Some construction materials (including lumber – the most often used) have doubled in price since February. There have been shortages in certain materials. Some suppliers may have decking boards. Others may be out. And their supply chain is unpredictable right now. Everyone involved must have patience and flexibility.

Personally, we are all experiencing unusual stresses and challenges in life. Parents became impromptu school teachers to their children. Service workers have had to completely rethink how they provide services with protective gear and distancing. Everyone has learned video conferencing (albeit for some it’s still a work in progress). Every time we have a stuffy nose, we ask ourselves, “Do I have COVID?” We all need patience and flexibility for each other.

At Rebuild Upstate, we’re a small team (all eleven of us) facing a huge need (1,299 homes at the moment). We often have to have patience and flexibility as we try to make a bigger dent in the need. We’re thankful for your patience and flexibility with our small team – whether it’s patience in us responding to your question or flexibility on-site when a normal construction material isn’t available and we have to improvise. It is your support that has led to repairing over 1,000 homes in our community – and we continue to need your support as we work to repair the next 1,000 homes in even less time.

Together, we will all get through this as long as we realize that we’re all people, we’re all trying our best, and that sometimes we (even our team) have to take a deep breath and smile. Thank you for journeying on this road with us. One home at a time, we are changing lives – and that’s something to have a big smile about.

Grace and peace,
Chris Manley
President/CEO & Founder