Health, Help, and Hope

Posted on March 24, 2020 | Leni Dworkis, Weissberg Foundation

For many of us, these times are unprecedented. While a lot of us have been on this earth long enough to see the impacts of war, horrific natural disasters, devastating genocides, and other public health pandemics, some of us have yet to personally feel the deep socioeconomic effects and social ripples of crisis.

As an immunocompromised person, with nearly two decades of chronic illness under my belt, I have to admit that I’m certainly scared in the age of COVID-19. I worry for my partner – an electrical apprentice – who has still had to work; I worry for my roommate – a Marine – who was deemed essential and has to go into the office; I worry for my other roommate – whose job is contingent on people accessing community space – who is at risk of losing her job; and I worry for my father – a university administrator – who insists that his short walk to the office doesn’t put him at risk. Most of all, I feel a deep pit in my stomach when I think about those in the District and surrounding metro area who are reliant on resources, supports, and services that are in high demand during these times.

We’re living in a world where the threat of exposure feels real for all people, but it’s important to remember that many of those most effected have often experienced pervasive and systemic racism, classism, transphobia, and other stigmas and biases. Many folks are homeless, unemployed, low-income, or don’t have the choice not to go into work. Consequently, many of these individuals are uninsured and/or lack quick and affordable access to medical care. Disproportionately, this includes people of color who are feeling the institutionalized and interpersonal impacts of a frightened and fractured America.

The walls of my house, though sometimes madness inducing, feel like a sanctuary, and I have the benefit of being able to work from my home. I notice the distance and space between myself and directly impacted community members that comes with my privilege. I can calmly practice self-care on my short runs and cope by watching copious amount of television via streaming services. But now, more than ever, it is important for me to critically examine and explore the purpose that drives me in this work.

We’ve had some virtual site visits with our grantee partners recently and their work and their willingness to respond actively and compassionately to the real needs and fears of their constituents is almost unfathomable. It gives me the hope I’ve needed, reminds me that there is love in this world, and keeps me inspired by humanity. I’ll be honest – I haven’t been able to talk about it to others without crying.

The Weissberg Foundation has also been a source of support for me during these dark days – I feel fortunate to have coworkers who are tirelessly passionate and dedicated and to work for a foundation committed to listening, learning, and taking action. Through giving to the Greater Washington Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, and funds like these, we are in small part able to support crucial emergency preparedness and response efforts.

We also signed on, and encourage others to as well, to the Council for Foundations’ pledge of action, which asks funders to commit to:

  • Loosening or eliminating restrictions on current grants;
  • Making new grants as flexible as possible and/or to other organizations created and led by those most effected;
  • Reducing the burden on grantee partners when it comes to reporting requirements, site visits, and other demands on their time;
  • Contributing to community-based emergency response funds and other efforts;
  • Listening to our grantee partners and lifting up their voices during this time;
  • Supporting, as appropriate, those advocating for public policy changes to deliver an equitable and just response to this emergency; and
  • Learning from these practices and sharing what they teach us about effective partnership and philanthropic support, which have implications in times of crisis and times of stability.

We encourage local and national funders, as they are able, to give where they can to support endeavors like these, as well as those they fund directly, and to use this crisis as an opportunity to engage more fully in trust-based philanthropy practices. We also encourage you to tune into Twitter – you can follow us @WeissbergFdn – and other social media for the latest updates and efforts of some of our grantee partners.

In the words of Franklin Roosevelt, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.” Stay healthy, find ways to help, and most of all, don’t give up hope.


Leni Dworkis is the program manager at the Weissberg Foundation, where she provides robust programmatic support to Grantee partners seeking to advance social, racial, and criminal justice. Prior to joining the foundation in 2019, she served in research and programmatic capacities at the Vera Institute of Justice where she contributed to strategic development initiatives, measurement and evaluation efforts, and exploratory investigation around reaching and serving under-resourced and marginalized crime victims. Her long-standing passion for working with and giving voice to underserved populations has fueled her interests in breaking down oppressive barriers and rebuilding social structures to better meet the needs of all individuals.