The COVID-19 pandemic is uncharted territory around the world and in our own communities. We are all feeling the impact. Many are struggling, especially the most vulnerable. Everyone is adapting, learning new ways of living, new ways of connecting, and for those fortunate to still have work, new ways of getting a job done.

Here at United Way, our mission is to mobilize communities for lasting social change. We do this through collaborating with and convening an amazing network of partners and agencies, who come together every day to help children, youth and adults most at risk. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, the Calgary Emergency Management Agency asked United Way of Calgary and Area to mobilize a city-wide effort and get emergency funding out right away to people who need it—those living in poverty, in social isolation, the homeless, seniors, and people living with mental health issues or domestic violence.

Within 72 hours, in partnership with The City of Calgary, we set up the COVID-19 Community Response Fund. The Calgary Foundation, Alberta Health Services, Calgary Health Trust, the Calgary Homeless Foundation, Indigenous leaders, and many others quickly came to the table to collaborate. We thank them for their leadership, and also thank the provincial and federal governments for their support.

We are especially grateful for the leadership of our incredible donors and corporate partners, who have reminded us once again that Calgary is a compassionate and caring community. Through the support of the Calgary Foundation, Shell, the Calgary Flames Foundation, Enmax, Enbridge, and hundreds of individuals, agencies on the ground have been able to provide urgent needs such as food, shelter, mental health supports. and outreach and services to seniors. We couldn’t do any of this without the tremendous generosity of Calgarians.

Over the next few months, communities will move beyond the immediate, emergency response stage of COVID-19 and on to recovery—beginning to rebuild the economy, including our social sector. Then we’ll move to the third stage, a new resiliency, an as-yet-unknown future that we can create together. It’s a process, and to get through it, our personal and professional connections are so important. Connected communities are more resilient communities, and connected people are more resilient people.

I’ve been reflecting recently on what it means to be a leader when the world changes overnight. What’s really important? Words like compassion, empathy, and courage come to mind. I hope that I’ve been approaching my work with more kindness and confidence, and some humour. Decisions need to be made quickly, with a positive mindset, and with the mission of United Way always at the forefront of my mind.

Last week, I listened to a presentation by Simon Sinek, the great thinker and author who is one of my favourite speakers. He describes himself as “an unshakable optimist who believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together.” Sinek reminded me that major crises have happened before (although not as suddenly as this pandemic), and people and businesses who pivot successfully towards a changed future are generally thinking not only about survival, but also some form of reinvention. Reinvention will come in Calgary, but not right away. Most people now are in survival mode, because it’s very, very tough out there.

I am proud of the way that our community has come together in response to COVID-19. There are so many to thank: donors and corporate partners, government at all levels, the social sector agencies, the front-line health care workers, and the volunteers.

We have what we need in Calgary to come out the other end of this crisis, as long as we stand together. We can embrace and build a new future, one that has a place for every single person in our community.

We stand united with you to make that happen.


Karen Young, President and CEO