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Volunteers of America-Greater New York is Responding to COVID-19

Our everyday mission at VOA-Greater New York is to help the families and individuals we serve overcome obstacles to living safe, healthy and productive lives in the community. Now, in the third month of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are beginning to see positive signs that our comprehensive, coordinated efforts to slow the spread of the virus and keep our clients, staff and volunteers safe, are working.

A Message from Our New President and CEO, Myung Lee

I hope this finds you, your families, and your loved ones safe and healthy in these uncertain times. Rest assured that Volunteers of America-Greater New York is staying strong and leading the way to ensuring the safety of our neighbors who depend on us, day in and day out.

On May 19, 2020, I was honored to officially be named President and CEO of Volunteers of America-Greater New York, succeeding Tere Pettitt, who announced her retirement plans last summer.

Admittedly, joining VOA-Greater New York at this moment presents its challenges. But I am confident of a seamless transition, thanks to a highly experienced and committed VOA-Greater New York leadership team, including Tere herself, who will continue to lend her vast expertise in a consulting role, our Emergency Preparedness Team, which is responsible for guiding the organization’s COVID-19 response, and a supportive and dedicated board of directors.

Most of VOA-Greater New York’s programs are residential. We house more than 3,000 vulnerable men, women and children every night, and over 10,000 individuals every year. As such, our doors must stay open 24/7, continuing to provide temporary shelter for those seeking to escape domestic violence or life on the streets, and permanent supportive housing for those who call a VOA-Greater New York program “home.”

The organization’s impressive history of successfully navigating, and applying lessons learned from past emergencies, including September 11, the blackout of 2003 and Hurricane Sandy, has served us well during this latest — though unprecedented — crisis.

We quickly activated our Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) in every one of our programs, initially holding desktop drills to ensure program staff were prepared to respond to a number of scenarios. Then, as the nature of the pandemic revealed itself in all its complexities, the team went into action, implementing strict protocols as advised by city, state and federal governments as well as the health authorities including the NYS Department of Health (DOH), NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration, FEMA and the CDC.

The COOP is comprehensive, with client and staff safety its number one focus. From the start, we have been communicating regularly with staff and clients, revising protocols when advised by the aforementioned authorities to do so, preparing for potential staffing shortages in the event many of our staff were personally impacted, allocating and keeping close watch on the extraordinary expenses we have been incurring, and much more.

We credit our extremely low infection rate for both staff and clients to the quick adoption of social distancing rules, use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when we could get our hands on it, vigilant disinfection protocols, and constant communication with staff and clients. As most organizations serving on the front line, we have lost employees and clients to this invisible enemy. Three VOA-Greater New York employees and four clients have died as a result of COVID-19. Our hearts and prayers are with their families and we are doing what we can to ease their burden.

Our staff are essential. They are front line heroes who continue to show up - in more ways than one - in spite of the risks to their own safety and that of their families. For our clients, our staff and our community, now is not the time for us to let our guard down. We see this as a marathon as opposed to a sprint, and we are pacing ourselves — we are in it for the long haul. While I would not say we are at the last mile yet, we are getting closer.

For nearly 125 years, in the face of world wars, the Great Depression, a global flu pandemic, and other natural and manmade disasters, Volunteers of America has never wavered in its mission to ensure the wellbeing of our more vulnerable neighbors. We remain steadfast in our commitment to the veterans, families and individuals experiencing homelessness, at-risk youth about to age out of the foster care system, survivors of domestic violence, individuals living with HIV/AIDS and others who count on us.

Thank you for your support, and for putting your faith in us to deliver the best possible services to our neighbors in need, particularly now. If you had intended to make a financial contribution to support our work, planned a corporate volunteer event that has been postponed, or simply are inspired by the work we are doing every day to change, often save lives, I encourage you to make a gift today. We would be grateful, as we anticipate our pandemic-related expenses may exceed $6 million.

Be safe. I look forward to meeting you soon!

Myung Lee
President and CEO
Volunteers of America-Greater New York

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