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Leading Through Tough Times: An Interview with City Year Philly’s Executive Director, Darryl Bundrige

No one could have predicted it. A health pandemic so severe it brings the entire globe, the entire international community, to a screeching halt. Certainly, there’s no playbook for it. And for heads of organizations everywhere, it’s testing every aspect of leadership imaginable.  

For City Year Philadelphia’s Executive Director and Vice PresidentDarryl Bundrige, leading through COVID-19 has been unlike anything he’s ever experienced.  

“I’ve seen and lived through a lot in my time at City Year,” shares Bundrige who is in his 11th year at City Year and fifth as Executive Director. “From transit strikes and snow days to crawling out from under the Great Recession of 2008; COVID-19 definitely takes the cake.” 

As with nonprofits and small businesses everywhere, the impact to the organization has been fierce. At City Year Philadelphia (CYP), Bundrige describes the site’s most critical needs as: ensuring CYP’s AmeriCorps members can connect with and support students; ensuring corps and staff are supported financially and emotionally, and re-building financial resources lost as a result of COVID-19, but that are so critical to ensuring City Year can support Philadelphia’s school students. 

In the three-part series that follows, our Executive Director candidly discusses his experience leading through a pandemic and the raw emotions it conjures up when he reflects on the collective impact of COVID-19.

Very generally, what has leading through this pandemic been like for you as CYP’s Executive Director? 

It has been unique and unlike anything, I’ve experienced before. You can’t prepare or practice for moments like this. It brings into perspective what is most important and what you need to pay attention to. 

The first two weeks were super intense. The days were long and required a heightened focus to keep up with everything moving and changing so quickly. Now, it’s more of a rhythm where I can think more about the future while also needing to keep people positive and focused on being successful. 


How has COVID-19 impacted the City Year Philadelphia site? 

Starting with the people first, we’ve put intense focus into caring for our corps, making sure they are whole and have what they need emotionally, physically, and even technologically. Across the site, we feel fortunate and grateful we have jobs and that we’ve not been impacted in terms of benefits or salaries being cut.  

We have experienced loss of life, unfortunately. Not directly of our staff or corps, but via family members and other loved ones. This affects us because one of us has gone through that experience. It makes the loss that much more tangible and the impact of this pandemic even closer to home. 

In Philadelphia and other regions, small businesses and nonprofits are feeling the financial impact. What has been the case for CYP? 

We have lost revenue through canceled or postponed service days, fundraising events, and halted state funding. We have also been impacted by our service being interrupted and our ability to continue delivering service through the remainder of the school year. Right now, we’re working with the School District and our school and teacher partners to collaborate in the virtual learning space. We’re optimistic. Not only for reconnecting with our students — particularly social-emotionally — but also academically. This also helps us earn revenue for services delivered. 

How does an organization respond to this type of unexpected disruption? 

For us, we do everything in our power to ensure we can provide services to students. You become strategic in how to engage champions and supporters with key messages that focus on how your work is connecting to their goals and expectations and how working together will only increase our desired funding outcomes. You go very strongly into that mode. 

We also have in our favor — even though we don’t want to take it for granted — that we do have reserves. It’s the equivalent of a rainy-day fund. Similarly, City Year is 29 sites, yet one 501(c)(3) so the financial fortitude of the organization is behind us. All these things are in our favor. 

Finally, the ability to leverage our Site Board to mobilize in generating support financially is critical. We have a strong Board willing to do that.  

From your view, what are CYP’s top three needs right now? 

First, we need to make sure that our corps members are connecting with students and supporting their social-emotional and virtual learning needs. Second, we need to continue to make sure that our staff and corps are supported financially, emotionally, and in doing their work and their service. Lastly, we need to continue to build the financial resources to assure that we are here for our young people in the next school year — whether it’s virtually or standing at the doors on first day of school to welcome them back! 

Check-in next week for Part II of our series “Leading Through Tough Times: An Interview with City Year Philly’s Executive Director, Darryl Bundrige. 

To see City Year Philadelphia’s latest updates and response to COVID-19, visit us online. Seeking to support our work during this time? Here are Four Easy Ways to Support City Year Philadelphia today. 

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