Stories from Alexandrians that will make you smile. We hope.
Lynn Thomas is the executive director of Community Lodgings, an Arlandria-based nonprofit organization that lifts families from homelessness and instability to independence and self-sufficiency through affordable housing, transitional housing, and youth education programs.
You said during your ACT Now Tuesday Talks interview that COVID-19 and working from home has turned you into an introvert. I’m not buying it.
I feel like I’m 65 years old and retired. I work more at home and I work longer but this lifestyle is comfortable. I’m OK. I’m at peace and enjoy the confinement of being at home. I do have a fear of the unknown. I stayed home the first two months of the pandemic.
What are you learning about yourself as a homebody?
I just enjoy working at home and the peace and quiet. There’re no constant interruptions. I am learning to appreciate the little things. Being home now I see how many home DIY projects I need to do.
You’re such a sports fan. How are you surviving without watching sports?
It’s been tough. March was tough but I did host a Zoom Redskin draft party. I’ve been catching up on some TV shows. You have to watch “Little Fires Everywhere”! I try to stay away from news except for local updates. I’m also taking some free classes through the Alexandria Public Library. I’m slow-rolling my “to do” and “put off forever” lists. It took me four weeks to organize my closets.
Have you reached Zoom burnout?
I had eight Zoom calls back to back. When you find a way around Zoom burnout let me know. Sometimes I don’t turn camera on and I multi-task during the meeting.
“Pivot” is a word being used a lot. What does that mean to you and Community Lodgings?
We’ve had to change how we work and deliver services, how we work with our affordable housing families versus our transitional housing families. Until now, our 39 affordable housing families took care of themselves. Now they need help with food, rent, and other resources. We had to let them know we were there for them and we are more than landlords.
That’s a lot of change.
It’s huge. Even working from home has been a change. We had to get printers and paper and laptops for some of the staff. A Chromebook or MacBook wasn’t enough. But our maintenance team cleans and disinfects the Community Lodgings buildings every weekday – the door handles, common area, and laundry.
How do you keep up morale?
I had pizza delivered to each of my staff’s homes and we had a pizza quarantine party last Friday. We also closed the office the Friday before Memorial Day weekend so we can all relax a little. I get energized when I see pictures of an activity we’ve done, like a kid eating breakfast we had delivered or a mom showing off food she’s cooked for her family. It confirms that I’m doing the right thing. I think, “This is the reason I do this.”
Tell me about the kids in your youth enrichment program. How are you helping them?
Our learning center staff is typically focused on youth education and now they are pseudo case workers. They work from home and call or text or email families in our community daily to help them with food, jobs, and to connect them to resources. ACPS [Alexandria City Public Schools] has a pass/fail program. We have identified the middle school and high school kids who are at risk of not passing a class and set up mobile classrooms and one-on-one tutoring to help them.
You mentioned in the ACT Now Tuesday Talks that the community has been resilient.
Yes. They’re asking how they can pay their rent, not saying they can’t. They don’t want a handout. One guy lost his job and he’s helping us deliver and pick up food. We asked how we could pay him and he just said, “You’re giving me food and helping the community.” That was enough for him. They’re all asking how they can help the community. They want to help each other find jobs. People want to work.
What has been the emotional impact of social distancing on your community?
Our families are used to coming together. There’s a lot of extended family in Arlandria and they’re used to coming home and talking and hanging out. Social distancing and no physical contact have been tough. But this community has really come together. Al’s Steakhouse and Toppers Pizza have been great. Al’s has been making pancake breakfasts on Saturdays with funds we received from the ACT Now COVID Response Fund, and Toppers Pizza helped sponsor pizza for 16 of our kids who made the honor roll.
How can people help you?
We’ve adopted the theme “together at heart while we are apart” for our kids and community. We’re all on this together. We’ve called our teens to remind them that they’re not alone in this.