The Ally: December 2020 – Caitlin Brooking

Caitlin Brooking
Deputy Director
Volunteer Mississippi


As anyone experienced with emergency management knows, drills and exercises provide vital planning and practice with the intent to prepare organizations and networks for disasters. You workshop roles, responsibilities, and chains of command; you draft procedures; you document plans to ensure continuity of operations and efficiency of response. 2020 was the kind of year that put all our carefully laid plans to the test, all at once.

A global pandemic, interlaced with multiple natural disasters, on top of the already staggering amount of work completed by mission-driven organizations across Mississippi every day, truly tested the boundaries of our capacity. No single organization alone could rise to meet the level of community problem solving necessary to face this kind of year. We also tend to respond to emergencies in groups – Mississippians gather together to volunteer, to provide food and shelter to those in need, and the nature of this pandemic severely compromised our ability to wield our strongest superpower – community.

Luckily, we at Volunteer Mississippi have been extremely fortunate to have spent the last few years building a robust and statewide partnership with the Alliance to bring nonprofits, grantmakers, and volunteers together to meet challenges facing our Mississippi communities. Priya Parker, an expert in gathering intentionally, and conflict resolution, recently reflected on two initial questions when faced with great adversity: “What do I know how to do, and where is the need?”

Throughout this year, Volunteer Mississippi and The Mississippi Alliance were able to sit down together to let these questions guide our work.  We gathered information from the field and provided it to national leaders to illustrate Mississippi’s situation. That data helped inform decision-making to develop and refine procedures to move resources where they were most needed. In turn, we were able to support volunteers and organizations on the frontlines to meet the growing need.

Our network of eight regional Hubs for Volunteers and Nonprofits were the boots on the ground, supporting and convening community organizations and volunteers, and providing vital insight and guidance to VM and The Alliance. Communication tends to be the biggest obstacle to overcome in times of disaster. Our partnership provided the crucial open communication lines we needed to understand nuances and tackle each micro-crisis as it evolved.

As the dust from 2020 begins to settle and the path forward begins to materialize, Volunteer Mississippi has found itself rooted within a robust safety net of partnerships around the state, anchored by our friends at the Alliance. We enter the holidays so thankful to know we are surrounded by thoughtful and passionate people who care so deeply about Mississippi.