The following OpEd appeared in the Wichita Eagle on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021.
As we emerge from the destructive grip and unintended consequences of a health-related pandemic, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the past year with an eye towards the future and National Philanthropy Day on November 15. It is nearly impossible to measure the negative impact we have all felt from the health consequences of COVID-19 over the past 18 months, the learning loss, or the financial instability incurred from layoffs or business closures. In south central Kansas, we’ve endured some of the toughest blows and are only now seeing glimmers of hope for a return to normalcy.
For many, the pandemic forced an introspection for people to consider career changes and for businesses to rethink strategy and their value proposition. Financial support provided by government and charities helped us through this period of suffering and reflection, so that we could emerge stronger and more innovative.
Difficult times are not new to Kansans, and in fact our culture of grit and resiliency make us even more suited to not only endure disasters like tornadoes, fires, and floods, but also viral diseases. It is Wichita’s boot-strap mentality that has fostered a national reputation for entrepreneurialism and independence.
Nonprofits have also learned to adapt and evolve in tough times and today is no different. From delivering human services behind plexiglass to raising money online and through zoom calls, the need for help never dissipates while the search for resources only becomes harder. But Wichitans don’t quit, and neither do area nonprofits. To honor this national philanthropy day in the spirit of this city’s entrepreneurial history, the United Way of the Plains has taken a page from our business community to host a “Shark tank”-like event called Impact on the Plains, where nonprofits will pitch their ideas to help serve our community for a chance at their portion of a $100,000 investment.
The demographics of our region are changing, technology continues evolving at a record pace, and societal norms morph with every new generation. Wichita’s nonprofits are transforming, too, in order to meet emerging needs, solve new challenges, and deliver services in more efficient and effective ways. Wichita’s nonprofits are thinking outside of the box and challenging old paradigms to be more relevant in a 21st century world with new ways of delivering needed services. Developing modern ways to teach English to a growing refugee population, reducing learning loss in our 4th grade science classes, and building a community garden to provide fresh food in low-income, geographical food deserts are only a few innovations we’ve seen recently in our community.
President Reagan first proclaimed November 15 as National Philanthropy Day in 1986, honoring the generosity and selflessness of people to help one another that has been part of our American story for over 200 years. Wichita’s legacy of entrepreneurial success continues to push our people and our nonprofits to give and serve in ways that make life better for all. As we emerge from the throes of a once-in-a-century pandemic, let’s embrace the philanthropic spirit of hope and optimism for a more innovative and prosperous future.