Going for the gold

Every four years, many of us settle into our favorite comfy chair and watch amazing athletes from around the world pull off stunning physical achievements, under the banner of their home country. The strength, agility and stamina on display are truly inspiring.  Although there is often some controversy attached to the Olympic Games, it is impossible to not be captivated by the stories of the competitors.  You can’t watch the competition without respect for the unseen years of practice, repetition and sacrifice that make their Olympics dreams possible – and a healthy dose of national pride.

This year’s Games in Beijing had very special meaning for me, as my nephew, Ben Ogden, is competing as a cross-country skier for Team USA! Like athletes’ families from across the globe, due to the pandemic I watched Ben compete Tuesday remotely, but in real time!  Of course that meant I was up in the middle of the night, with a family “watch party” that included my sister and her family in Vermont, my son in San Francisco, and Lauren and me cheering from Puyallup!

And Ben delivered!  He finished 12th overall in the Sprints competition – a series of 1.5 km races. While not earning a medal, he was the top U.S. cross-country finisher for the men in this event – and he also turned in the highest EVER Olympic finish for a male X-country sprint skier from the United States!  And he was 5 years younger than anyone in his semi-finals heat! So who knows where he could finish in the next Olympics?  Our family was so proud of him!  The Team USA Cross-County Ski Team is definitely moving up in the world.

Thinking about Ben’s achievement, relative to Olympic competition, reminded me of other outstanding performances for our community that are continuing to be recognized at the national level!  While we’re not in competition, I am gaining even more perspective on how well our County teams performed for our community, in response to the global pandemic.

Case in point, earlier this month I was invited to speak with leaders from The Ballmer Group (yes, Steve Ballmer of Microsoft fame) about the exceptional programs you and your teams created to meet the needs of our residents dealing with the impacts of the last two years.

I told the group not only what you accomplished – but how you did it. I shared how responding to COVID put a premium on leadership and innovation – and that responsiveness and flexibility were key.  At the same time, we engaged the community and were transparent and direct with an extra focus on communicating what you were doing and the outcomes you were accomplishing.  These steps were particularly crucial in the face of the uncertainty that our entire community was facing.

We had online dashboards that showed the numbers of people that were being helped; we tracked the demographic profiles of those receiving support so we could know we were reaching some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community; and we invested a great deal of time and energy to make sure people knew what kinds of help were available to them.

On top of this, you turned on a dime, quickly pivoted when needed, and kept up a pace that I know has made many of you tired and worn out.

Testing sites went up in 24 hours – most recently in response to the Omicron variant. Food distribution programs for students without classrooms were organized in days. Assistance for renters and homeowners was made available so fast we had other counties asking how we made it happen so quickly.  Support for struggling business, from PPE to adaptation grants and more, was swift and sorely needed.

Not every jurisdiction did this.  Let me repeat this. Our commitment to transparency and effectiveness in getting our federal funds into the hands of people who really needed it was an exception across the U.S.  And that’s why the invitations to speak about your work continue to come in. You truly turned in a “gold medal” worthy performance!

As I close, I want to tell you about another group going for the gold.  Leadership was crucial to our response to COVID and is important in the services we provide to our community everyday.  That is why I asked Mary Ransier, who leads our Organization and Development Team, to develop a program to promote leadership within our County.  By now I hope you know that we have a leadership certification program to develop leadership skills, and to grow both our current leaders, and those who aspire to be one.

Supported by Maura Maye, Tyesha Green and a cadre of County instructors, employees have been earning their bronze or silver certification for years.  Now a cohort is working to be the first County employees to earn their gold certification – and I can’t wait to celebrate with them.

I applaud the commitment your colleagues have made to learning, development and skill building. It’s time well-spent and a valuable investment in their career.  You can find out more about the Leadership Certification program here.

And in last night’s Men’s Cross-County 15 km race?  Despite being a “sprinter,” Ben was the second American finisher!  Way to go, Ben!

Thanks for reading,