Jordan Golin was as caught off guard as the rest of us were by the impact of the pandemic last year on his employees and on people in the communities his organization serves, but an experience with another crisis several years before changed his perspective on leadership and gave him some idea of what needed to be done when Covid-19 hit.
The organization he leads, Jewish Family and Community Services, was called on in 2018 to provide counseling support for victims, witnesses and others impacted by the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue.
“In a strange sort of way, when Covid hit, we already had some experience responding to a community crisis,” he said. “I think we were a little bit better equipped to deal with it than we might have been otherwise.”
The organization started providing counseling support for anyone affected by the tragedy the day of the shooting. Golin enlisted therapists, both from JFCS and from outside his organization, who provided free-of-charge therapy to victims, witnesses, first responders and even journalists who asked for assistance.
That response taught him a valuable lesson about leadership. It’s a lesson he believes that all leaders must now embrace.
“Just a few years ago, CEOs and leaders of organizations didn’t expect they’d be responsible for responding to a crisis like what happened at the Tree of Life,” he said. “Now, with the pandemic, we do expect it. We need to be on the lookout for any kind of community challenges and be aware of the role we can play helping individuals and members of the community in times of crisis.”
Golin is a clinical psychologist who joined JFCS two decades ago as director of clinical services and worked his way up the ranks of the organization, serving as chief operating officer before being named president and CEO five years ago.
He said he believes the most important leadership trait is flexibility.
“We no longer live in an environment where we can predict, especially with the work that we do as an organization, what’s going to happen next week, next month or next year,” he said. “I need to have my finger on the pulse of my staff and understand what they are going through to be most helpful for them, to help them to do the best job they can do. And what helps them do a better job today may be different than what helps them tomorrow.”
JFCS helps people through various life challenges, addressing things like food insecurity and mental health issues. It also supports older adults who want to maintain their independence in the community, refugee resettlement, legal issues facing immigrants and employment challenges.
The food pantry quickly pivoted from allowing people to come into the facility to pick out their items to a system where bags of food were delivered to cars. Counseling services were moved to a virtual format.
While JFCS had long served members of the community in a number of ways, it had never supported its clients financially. That, too, changed as a result of the pandemic, when it was designated as one of the nonprofits in the region to help those in need with money provided by area foundations.
“We have never given away a large amount of financial assistance in the past,” Golin said. “But during this pandemic, we gave away a lot of financial assistance, in the neighborhood of $500,000, to help people pay their bills, to keep their lights on, to pay their rent. We were one of the agencies in charge of distributing the money.”