Service in COVID-19: Phani Aytam

Using usual rhetoric like ‘unprecedented times’ to describe the past few months would be an understatement. As someone who values privacy and prefers to stay out of the public eye, the past few weeks have certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. You may have seen me share my perspectives publicly and via social media, more often lately. 

What caused me to stretch myself? I serve on the United Way Board and have crossed paths with several community residents and nonprofits in the last few weeks, including people like Penny (pseudonym). Penny, a single mother of two toddlers lost her job at a local establishment. She was self-sufficient before COVID, in a stable relationship with her fiance. In April, domestic abuse rendered her food and shelter insecure, unable to get help from people close to her. 

Penny’s story is not unique. COVID-19 has impacted communities, disproportionately impacting people on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. For some of us with economic privilege, we may have been inconvenienced for having to work from home, sharing our work space with a spouse, pet or a child. Others have been deprived of food, health, career, shelter and more importantly their self-esteem and means to take care of themselves and their loved ones.

United Way created a COVID response fund on March 16 to address these inequities in McLean County. To learn more about United Way’s work in McLean County, review the following 100-foot waves coming our way LinkedIn article. Creating the fund, to help people like Penny, required bold action. Since the day the fund was setup, the following quote from Robert Greenleaf stuck with me. “My concern is for the individual as a serving person and the tendency to deny wholeness and creative fulfillment to oneself by failing to lead when there is the opportunity.”

Many of us are trying to be the best spouse, sibling, offspring, parent or friend, to be there for people we care about and the best employee to advance our organization’s mission. These COVID times have made us reprioritize and reallocate our most precious asset in life, time. Self-care and community leadership may have taken a backseat. During these times of need, we need relentless hope, innovative solutions and call for action. Our communities and those we serve, need our serving people to engage and lead. To help our communities heal and come out stronger on the other side of this pandemic, we need leaders who can help forge coalitions that can create and scale solutions. When we are grounded in the realities of people we serve, like Penny, solutions we identify inadvertently improve the lives of others.

Many of you have been ardent supporters of MCLP and our community over the years. Our lives have been engulfed by the current changes. We have all been asked to do one more thing or do them differently. Our communities, especially those who are inequitably impacted, need us. They need us to step out of our comfort zone to serve and lead. Servant leaders like you are exactly what our communities need. Please reach out to your local elected officials, community nonprofits or even your next door neighbor. You might be able to serve others from the comfort of your home by offering your time, talent or treasure. You would be surprised how many people might take you up on your offer to serve and lead. If you see someone serve and lead, engage them. Share their message to amplify the impact and broaden the reach. Servant leadership and collaboration begets benefits for all.

Take care of yourself, if you can, someone else too. 

MCLP founder Phani Aytam describes himself as a strategic thought partner, data driven decision maker, community builder, and of course, a servant leader. Phani serves multiple non-profit boards and is constantly searching for new opportunities to better the community. When he’s not being superman, he works at State Farm as an Internal Management Consultant.

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