The Importance of Remaining Flexible

The Importance of Remaining Flexible
Steve Albert

What a roller coaster ride the past year has been! If the COVID pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that it’s necessary to stay flexible in one’s planning. The closure of the MJCC is a great example. When we re-opened in mid-June, we made health and safety a high priority. The recreation industry was told that our ability to remain open depended on our ability to control the spread of the coronavirus in our facilities. The MJCC did a superb job; we didn’t have a single case of COVID-19 traced to our facility, and this was typical of Oregon’s gyms. Nevertheless, we were ordered to close for two weeks in mid-November. We were then told it would be four weeks. And we were then told it would be indefinite. Eventually, the state developed new metrics, and we were told we could reopen when the county case rate dropped below 200 cases per 100,000 people. 

As these requirements shifted, our staff remained flexible. We did our best to communicate the information that we were provided to our members, and we continually looked for opportunities to keep our members engaged virtually. We explored opportunities for in-person programs and secured an emergency childcare license to allow us to offer afterschool and vacation youth camps. And we waited for the case counts to drop. And waited. And waited.

In late January, as the numbers were finally dropping, the state announced revisions to the guidelines, requiring that we, once again, be flexible. We were told that we could have six people in the building, including staff members. Since we need five staff members to operate safely and effectively, it didn’t make sense to consider operating under those conditions. One day later, the guidance was revised, and we were told that we could have six people in the building, excluding staff. It still wasn’t practical to reopen under those circumstances, and we wrote to our members explaining the situation. Two days later, the guidance was revised, and we were told that we could six people in each enclosed area (fitness center, pool area, gym, Sportsplex, ballroom, etc.). We thought we could reopen, but we were then told that members would have to remain at least 25 feet apart, and, once again, it simply wasn’t practical. Finally, on February 9, we were given the green light to reopen with the same constraints that were in place when we closed in November.

We are now actively planning to reopen in late February. Reopening is a challenge, however, and it requires flexibility. Last spring, the Payroll Protection Program loan that the MJCC received made it possible for us to retain our staff, and they were ready to return as soon as we reopened our campus. This time around, most of our staff won’t be returning. We’ve had to lay-off over 85% of our employees, and many have found other positions, left the recreation industry, or left the Portland area. We are confident that we can rebuild Team J with a group of talented, experienced, customer-service oriented staff members, but it will take time. Current employees will have to be flexible about the duties that they assume. Members will have to be flexible as new staff members learn our policies, procedures and systems and get to know our members. All of us will have to stay flexible as we learn and implement new protocols.

The changes will keep coming. New phases of our re-opening will ultimately allow us to bring back soccer leagues, lunchtime basketball, mah jongg, concerts, films, art shows, the cafe, and all the programs and services that our community loves. But it’s unlikely to be a smooth, gradual reopening, and more likely to be interspersed with setbacks and partial or short-term closures along the way.

Thank you for sticking with us as we navigate this roller-coaster ride. Stay flexible!