Tifton Chamber Focus Summer 2020 - Page 12

Appreciating our community during crazy times As the Grateful Dead once sang, “what a long, strange tip it’s been.” It doesn’t seem that long ago, because it wasn’t really, when I was sitting in a meeting for ABAC’s Stafford School of Business on a Thursday morning in March when news reports began to surface that the by Chris Beckham coronavirus could possibly cause schools to temporarily close. There had been some news about COVID-19 earlier in the week from around Georgia, but few people if anyone had any idea at that time what would lie ahead. The meeting at ABAC ended at lunch and as we all walked back to our cars, the conversation centered around “what exactly will happen now?” By that afternoon, Gov. Kemp recommended that public schools shut down temporarily and ABAC announced that classes would cease for two weeks. And we all know what has transpired since. All governments, schools, businesses and organizations have had to make a lot of crucial decisions since then and probably all have been supported and/or criticized for those decisions by others with different views. We have, and are, venturing through unprecedented times and at no time has it been more crucial for communities to work together to help its citizens in any way possible. I’m proud to say that I have seen that happen in numerous ways in Tift County. I’ve been extremely impressed with the leadership from Tift Regional Medical Center and all healthcare employees who have endured what I’m sure none of us outside of their profession can imagine. It was evident from the start of the pandemic that Southwell President/CEO Chris Dorman adopted an “all-in” attitude that had to inspire hospital employees to do the same, and he continuously communicated with the public as much as possible so that the community knew as much as possible. I saw local education officials adapt quicker than I could’ve ever imagined to teach students online. Before the shutdown, I would have thought coming up with a workable system to do this would have taken six months, minimum. Our folks got it done in weeks. Amazing. And I saw pledges to shop and do business locally that had been given a lot of lip service before, but was met with more enthusiasm than I can remember. All of these things reminded me why I love Tift County and its citizens. I saw the incredible volunteer effort of “Peanut Butter and Jesus”, which has been feeding and ministering to children in local neighborhoods each Saturday for quite some time, take it up another notch and change to a daily routine with the help of several volunteers and businesses who decided it was just the right thing to do. I saw churches suspend in-person services but remain linked through prayer, underscoring the belief that the church is not the building where worship happens, but the people whose faith withstands these kinds of challenges. But I won’t be dishonest and ignore the hardships the COVID-19 has caused. I know business owners who have made the difficult decision to close their doors for good. I know others who shut down temporarily but had to lay off employees for an undetermined period of time. Many if not most of these local folks survive paycheck to paycheck and were left wondering when or where the next one would come from. I’ve seen the long line of cars waiting to pull into the Georgia Museum of Agriculture for food as our friends at the Second Harvest of South Georgia provided boxes of food for around 1,800 households, each good for around 70-80 meals each. A sad and inspiring scene at the same time. Finally, and most importantly, I know friends who have contracted the virus and others who have lost loved ones due to it. And I have friends who lost loved ones due to other issues but could not attend their funeral due to the shutdown. While the economy can rebound, nothing can change that kind of finality and my heart breaks for them. At the Chamber of Commerce, we have worked to provide resources for our members, talked to various government organizations and business-specific entities to learn about programs that could possibly help those in need. We have continued to promote our members’ services and continued to work with prospects who are attracted to our area because of many of the reasons previously listed. Though the last few months have been difficult, we continue to work with companies looking to grow and expand and the economic development success that our area has enjoyed over the last few years has continued. We don’t know exactly what the days, weeks, and months ahead will bring. But I am convinced that we will find a way to work through it together. The “better angels of our nature” have been seen and heard. 12 Tift Chamber Focus • SUMMER 2020