When Covid hit, The JCS staff faced a double challenge as they continued to work through the 15-month pandemic shutdown: Not only were many of these staff members providing social services, counseling, and other supports to people who needed help even before COVID hit, but all of them also experienced a markedly changed workplace. However, JCS’ Culture Club Chair, JC, and fellow Culture Club members established several programs and initiatives that kept staff morale high throughout. “Our number one priority was to organize fun things for staff and to do things as teams each month,” she explains. Culture Club members – Jewish Eldercare of Rhode Island (JERI) Program Coordinator Susie Adler, Executive Director of Shalom and Shalom II Susan Bazar, Lifeline Associate Chase Kazounis, Marketing and Communications Manager Jessica Murphy and Chief Financial Officer Renee St. John – “are going through what everyone is going through, too, and they selflessly give a lot. They come up with ideas and implement them and take feedback from the staff,” says Roussel. “Susie Adler, who is deeply observant, helps us honor our Jewish traditions.”
On June 14, JCS staff all gathered at the JCS headquarters for the first time since the pandemic started; staff had seen some colleagues only on Zoom during the past 15 months. The Culture Club sponsored a festive welcome back lunch on July 8th, which included The Village Greek Food truck, and Del’s Lemonade.
“I’ll be forever grateful to Erin [Minor, President, and Chief Executive Officer] for being overprotective of our staff and our clients. From the beginning of COVID, we had two staffing teams – when the Green Team was in the office, the Blue Team worked remotely, and vice versa,” says Roussel.
In February 2021, the Culture Club organized a step challenge that motivated people to get exercise even in freezing weather. In addition to accruing the well-researched and proven benefits of regular exercise, the participants experienced more camaraderie and friendly competition between the two teams: The Step Monsters, the third-floor employees’ team, and The Red Hot Chili Steppers, the second-floor employees’ team. An individual trophy went to Mary Poirier (JCS Controller), who walked the most steps during the month-long challenge. “She won a “kick butt” trophy and even bought a Fitbit after the challenge. She now walks constantly; it was a life-changing experience for her,” says Roussel.
“It’s good that I didn’t have to step on anyone on my way to victory,” jokes Minior, who happened to be on the winning team and looks forward to her team holding onto the trophy when the Culture Club hosts its August step challenge. “It was really all fun, and a nice diversion from the day-to-day work challenges.”
And, when Susie Adler anticipated COVID vaccine side effects, her teammates volunteered to walk extra steps to allow her to rest and recuperate. Even so, the camaraderie and friendly competition extend to more than just counting steps. “We don’t always ask for the help we need – especially as supervisors – but this has been a good way to show that other staff members are here to support you, both in walking competitions and in the workplace,” says Roussel. The competition was more popular with staff than any other Culture Club event, including birthday parties and holiday celebrations, so the Culture Club plans to make this a regular twice-yearly event.
Harry Hanukkah – the Jewish-take of Secret Santa – was deferred during COVID but is a regular holiday event that the Culture Club hosts. A baby photo contest – matching each staff member with their respective baby photo – trivia nights, and birthday recognitions – with a card and a small chocolate treat – are among other upcoming Culture Club events.
“I always feel supported by my supervisor and the organization; I’m really lucky to like and respect the people I work with here at JCS,” says Roussel. “I think I speak for most staff too when I say that these events that highlight the camaraderie amongst us have made coming back to work more exciting and makes the hard days a bit easier when we have those strong working relationships.”