Essential Humanism: Profiles of Courage in a Pandemic Part III: Jason Newman

Tell us about your job. What are some of the ways it’s changed during the pandemic?

I am the chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Muncie in Muncie, Indiana. I am responsible for all of our policy implementations, procedures, fundraising, budgeting, staff, and members. We have remained open to continue to provide childcare for families who must work during this pandemic. We have limited the number of members we can see in a day to thirty (down from 175) so that we can keep safe distances between our members and staff, and limit exposure to large amounts of people. We have been in the fortunate position to keep all of our staff on payroll (except for staff who are college students and live outside of Muncie), so we have increased our outreach to members by Zoom, Facebook Live events, YouTube recordings, and phone calls. For our high-risk staff members, we’ve found offsite work for them to do. Our two elderly cooks are working at a club site that is not working with kids. We have staff making phone calls and other virtual programming videos to share, and administrative and fundraising staff are working from home.

As the employer for a staff of thirty, it is imperative for me to be on the premises daily. Whereas before the pandemic I might have a week of meetings outside of the office and not step foot in the clubs, now I find myself around our kids and staff multiple times a day. Also, I have been the point person in fulfilling the needs that our families are reporting during our phone calls. We are using community support or our own budget to get needed supplies to our families. I am that delivery person. My day used to be a few fundraising phone calls and an in-person meeting (or ten). Now my days are anywhere from two hours to ten hours of meetings on Zoom, Microsoft Teams meetings, or GoToMeeting.

How do you feel about being an “essential” part of the workforce? 

I probably have more agency than most essential workers. At the end of the day, the decision to stay open was left to me. I did speak with board members, staff, and other community leaders, but the ultimate decision and responsibility was mine. Today I feel great about the contribution we’re making to our community. Getting to that point came with a lot of second-guessing and stress. We’ve been one of two programs open who are caring for families of essential services. The YMCA is the other. Their fee for families is $50 per day. Our fees are $15 per year, so there’s an economic divide as to who can go where. The YMCA has a contract with one of the local hospitals to pay the fees for their doctors and nurses, but not other staff. The hospital employees we have are nurses (some of whom were already members), custodial, and food service. It’s rewarding to know that we’re making a difference, so I feel pretty good about our place here.

Are you required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) while at work? Is it provided to you?

All staff members are required to wear masks when interacting with the public, and they are suggested for our members. We provide the masks.

What’s something your employer is doing well during the pandemic?

I am the employer, so I’m probably biased. We’re providing lunch free of charge daily to all of our staff members. I’m communicating with in-house staff daily about plans and ideas. I’m speaking with off-site employees weekly and giving the same information. And I’m providing opportunities for people who feel uncomfortable leaving their homes to work from home. Next week we’ll be providing bonuses to all staff that have continued to work, either from inside the clubs or from home (we will be giving twice as much to the frontline staff who are working with kids).

What’s something you would change to make your work environment better or safer during the pandemic?

Currently I retain extra staff on the premises while we’re open to clean, sanitize, and disinfect club areas after kids leave. I wish I could afford to have a professional cleaning crew in-house. I would prefer to provide higher-quality PPE, medical-grade, but not at the expense of medical professionals.

How does being an essential worker affect your family? What are their reactions?

It does not. I only have to worry for me, and I’m not.

How can the public make your job easier and/or safer?

Stay home, if you can. Follow masking and social distancing guidelines. If you are doing meal pick-ups, try to pick odd hours. It is immensely frustrating to go through a drive thru at 12:30 in the afternoon to have a line around the block (or Starbucks at 7:30am when they’ve told me they know of people who are just leaving to get coffee to try and maintain a normal schedule). If you are in a position to help financially or with supplies for the essential workers who are out there, please do so. I have kept all of my staff working, but many of them have had to reduce hours or leave second jobs.

What kind of positive change do you hope comes out of the pandemic–for you, for society at large?

The support my clubs are getting has never been better. Both financially and in terms of our reputation. I’d like our value as a public service to continue to be appreciated once this is over. I’ve also made it a point to share the great works of other local nonprofits and continue to work collaboratively with them. Some agencies that didn’t work collaboratively in the past now want to, and I’d like that to continue.

Does a religious faith inform your values? 


Do people you interact with on the job express religious beliefs to you or in other ways express their values?

Many people on my staff are religious, and many people out here in the Midwest with whom I regularly interact are as well.

What do you miss the most about your pre-pandemic life?

Going to a bar, performing live music, and the ability to go an entire day not looking at my face (it’s always on my screen during Zoom and Team meetings now!).