Reflecting on One Year of Leading Through Crisis

Laura outside smiling

Photo by Kaitlyn Robinson | RMHC Bay Area’s top-ranking social worker, Chief Executive Officer Laura Boudreau, MSW, MPH, reflects on World Social Work Day and how social work values helped her lead our Chapter through multiple crises in 2020. 

March is Social Work Month. It’s hard to believe that, in just a few weeks, I will celebrate one year as CEO of this amazing organization. As a social worker myself, today feels like the perfect time to pause and reflect on all that we have struggled through and accomplished together in the last year, across our RMHC Bay Area community.

The biggest challenge we faced was the unknown. In the early days of the pandemic, so little was understood – how the virus spread, who was most vulnerable, how long it would last, what the economic impacts would be for our families and our organization. But we knew one thing for sure: childhood illness was not going to pause for a pandemic, and families were going to need our support more than ever.

Laura crossed armsEveryone in our village – from staff to volunteers to donors, funders, and partners – everyone leaned in to say, “What can I do?” We changed every aspect of our service delivery, our fundraising strategy, our community engagement. We built new partnerships. We even expanded, starting a new meal program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. Together, we overcame a $1.4M revenue gap, allowing us to provide stable resources for thousands of families during unprecedented national and global instability.

Ultimately, social work is about empowering people. Our housing, meals, emotional support programs – these are all designed to empower families, to make them more resilient and better able to support their child’s healing. 2020, however, put a finer point on the social context in which our families exist. For one family, a meal represents comfort and care; for another, it’s the only way they’re going to eat today. Likewise, a room at RMH is a home-away-from-home for some families; for others, it’s the only way they can afford to come to the Bay Area, the only way to access the care their child needs.

One of our organization’s founders, Dr. Audrey Evans, said “a family with a sick child is a sick family.” Put simply, the family is a system, and no member can be understood in isolation. That makes the family an incredibly rich place to advance social work values: it’s one of our first and most important human relationships. It’s where social justice issues – poverty, racial injustice, access to health and education – are first evident. It’s a place where intervention and support can make a tremendous difference, especially in the life – and health – of a child. You have made a tremendous difference, and I am so grateful.

I attribute our success in 2020 to the fact that families were ALWAYS at the center of our decision-making and that our families’ needs captured so many hearts. Thanks to you, our incredible community, I know we will stay strong and resilient. Together, we will keep feeding the love that fuels our families during medical crisis for generations to come.

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