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How We’re Responding in This Time of Need


April 20, 2020

Yesterday, Obama Foundation Chief Executive Officer David Simas sent the message below to our email subscribers about our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you'd like to receive updates like these and other Foundation news in the future, you can sign up for our email list here.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been sharing uplifting stories we’ve seen from around the world to help reveal some of the ways people have been supporting their neighbors and lifting up their communities. Today, I wanted to share more stories of inspiring leadership, but I also wanted to provide a more detailed look at the Foundation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our first concern remains our top concern—ensuring the safety of our staff and program participants. We have been working from home since mid-March and have postponed and cancelled several events and programs that require in-person gatherings as we devise new ways to host them digitally.

But the goals of this Foundation—connecting and strengthening communities, empowering leaders, and inspiring hope through storytelling—are as vital in this time of crisis as ever. And despite the challenges this pandemic presents, we are finding new ways to fulfill our mission.

Here in our community of Chicago, our leadership team sent meals to volunteers at the Southside Center for Hope Opens in a new tab , one of the longest running women's shelters on Chicago's South Side located in Woodlawn. The facility usually houses 30 women with their families, but due to COVID-19, the Center for Hope has taken in significantly more families, and we wanted to do our part to help them respond to the increased need.

And even in this environment, our plans to build the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side of Chicago continue to progress, and we look forward to the new gardens, paths, and play areas—as well as new jobs and investment—the Center will bring to our neighbors.

To support our leaders, we’ve hosted virtual speaker trainings, webinars, and calls to help offer relevant expertise, while connecting people battling the outbreak on the frontlines to share best practices. President Obama has been a recurring and reassuring presence on several of these online gatherings. He’s connected with supporters in Chicago to thank them for their resilience during this time, as well as with leaders at home and abroad to encourage them as they grapple with the effects of COVID-19 in their own communities.

A graphic displays a quote from President Obama that reads: "If there was ever a time in which community mobilization, organization, social networks, trust building, mutual support and aid were necessary now is the time. The whole point of forming the Obama Foundation and looking to build the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side was to foster those kinds of values and to promote that kind of unity and sense of common purpose...I've always believed that government is critical but it is not enough. Change comes from the bottom up."

Because we know that this crisis is tragically hitting communities of color hardest, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance is hosting a series of online town halls focused on the specific needs of organizations and institutions that serve boys and young men of color in the face of COVID-19.

Finally, we continue to share stories of hope we’re hearing from around the world. This week, I wanted to share the work of one of our Scholars, Christian Vanizette.

Christian Vanizette is the co-founder of makesense Opens in a new tab , a platform that links volunteers with social entrepreneurs to tackle global challenges. When COVID-19 began to spread, the entire focus of his organization shifted to virtual community organizing to quickly share best practices around COVID-19 response to communities across the world.

Watch his story—and be sure to submit the stories that are inspiring you.

Stay healthy, stay hopeful,