Triumphs Amidst the Pandemic

(Thank You to The Neighborhood Developers for sharing this story!)

When the pandemic hit in March, The Neighborhood Developers (TND) based in Chelsea and our training partner International Institute of New England (IINE) were one week away from launching recruitment for our 12th cohort of hospitality training in Metro North communities.

As COVID began to ravage our area, all plans were put on hold as both TND and IINE shifted our focus to immediate crisis response efforts. TND launched a hotline to support people impacted by the pandemic, and have since assisted over 2,000 community members with applying for unemployment, accessing emergency rental assistance, filing for taxes, applying for SNAP, and getting school-issued Chromebooks online. Meanwhile, IINE reached out to all of their past graduates to check in and see how they were doing.

We regrouped in early June to figure out how to move forward with delivering our training and helping people move past basic stabilization. To respond to our new COVID reality, we had to make some major changes to our original training plan, including broadening the focus of the curriculum from hospitality training to general professional development, and delivering classes virtually instead of in-person.

As we moved into these uncharted territories, we were nervous about how this new format for training would work. A highlight of our classes when they were in-person was the tangible sense of community that was created in class. When planning to make the switch to virtual class delivery, we couldn’t help but wonder if we would be able to foster the same atmosphere through our screens.

We have now graduated 17 participants over two cohorts, and it has become clear that we had nothing to worry about. During both graduation ceremonies, IINE instructor Alex Kubana’s charisma carried effortlessly through the screen, and throughout the ceremony graduates listened attentively to their peers, cheering each other on through emotional speeches.

These virtual cohorts have been unique in their diversity; with the focus broadened from hospitality to professional development, participants have come from a wider range of backgrounds with more varied professional goals than ever before. Some of the participants came to CONNECT for the first time just weeks earlier in need of emergency assistance, while others had been years-long clients who suddenly found themselves out of work due to the pandemic.

Yet despite these differences, there has been an even stronger bond and sense of unity among graduates, as they have all been able to relate to the immense toll, both economic and emotional, that COVID has taken. During one of the graduation ceremonies, a graduate recounted through tears how, after years of being dedicated to her job and her customers, the pandemic had set her all the way back to square one and crushed her spirits entirely. Being in the class, she said, helped her break back out of her shell and regain her confidence. Another graduate shared how she was nervous to join an online class and originally had no interest in learning virtually, but was so grateful for all the people who encouraged her to try it out and then supported her along the way.