RaQuishia Harrington, program supervisor for special and underserved populations with the City of Iowa City, is accustomed to bringing people together — literally. This year, her plans didn’t quite go as expected. Many of the community programs she normally plans were put on hold or scrapped altogether. But amid the challenging circumstances, there were at least a few bright spots and many lessons learned. Harrington was invited to speak about the crucible moments of 2020 on a virtual panel in October organized by the Iowa City Area Business Partnership.
One lesson Harrington learned was how to get creative with event planning.
“We looked at our programs and asked, ‘What part of this can we actually do?’” she said. Along with her team, Harrington planned an outdoor science camp with participants distanced at park tables, plus virtual options for those at home.
“We learned pretty quickly how to navigate things virtually,” she said. Early on during the pandemic, she planned a day camp for children of first responders — something that was especially helpful during the spring school cancellations.
While working on altered and new events, she heightened her focus on underserved populations, working to ensure the programs she planned were accessible for as many people as possible. As part of that, Harrington realized that making programs virtual didn’t necessarily make them easier to access.
“As much as you might want to believe that everyone is fully equipped with internet service, that’s not the case,” she said. “The pandemic really highlighted how we might not be reaching certain demographics.”
Harrington has a unique perspective on the community’s needs. In addition to working for the City of Iowa City, she is currently serving her first full-term on the North Liberty City Council. This year, she’s heard from constituents who are struggling with a variety of challenges. “Both as a person working for the city and on city council, it’s important I keep up on topics of injustice and how they impact people,” she said.
A topic that came up frequently this year has been a renewed call for racial justice. As a city council member, Harrington wanted to make sure people’s stories and concerns were heard — and not just in the short term. “It took me stepping out as a person of color and as a person representing the whole community asking how we can elevate these voices,” she said.
Harrington said multiple city initiatives sparked by the conversations she helped facilitate are in the works. That’s important to her, and she wants to keep these conversations moving forward in 2021. “Just because we’re in the suburbs doesn’t mean we don’t have issues,” she said.
The renewed calls for racial justice had a small, unexpected upside for Harrington. She began talking with her neighbors about everything that was going on, and in the process became friendly with people she didn’t know well before. Getting to know her neighbors — and watching other people do the same — is a small silver lining of this year for Harrington.
Particularly post-derecho, she noticed that many people were willing to lend a hand to neighbors and strangers.
“2020 has highlighted the importance of looking past race or socio-economic status. When you see that people’s houses are blown away because of a storm, you want to do what you can to support them,” she said.
Amid all of the challenges of 2020, there are a few good things Harrington will take away from this trying year. Like remembering to reach out to neighbors and friends, and speaking up when injustices are happening and encouraging others to do so as well.
Most importantly, she’ll remember all of the compassion she witnessed this year.
“When there are things happening in our community that are impacting people, whether we’re addressing racial inequality, the derecho or a pandemic, that’s when the human side comes out, and people ask how they can support their neighbors. That speaks for itself about the compassion people have,” Harrington said.
Quotes on the year behind, the year ahead
• “It’s part of life to have obstacles. It’s about overcoming obstacles; that’s the key to happiness.” – Herbie Hancock
• “In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” – Tom Bodett
• “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” – Helen Keller
Books to help you think about the year behind, the year ahead
• “The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have” by Mark Nepo
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• “A Year of Positive Thinking: Daily Inspiration, Wisdom, and Courage” by Cyndie Spiegel
• “The Self Care Prescription: Powerful Solutions to Manage Stress, Reduce Anxiety & Increase Wellbeing” by Robyn Gobin, PhD
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