What does kitty litter have to do with social work?

July — it’s a month that starts off with a holiday that celebrates freedom, but most of us spent its 31 days hunkered down in our homes waiting for positive progress toward getting rid of COVID-19. Those of you who are essential workers didn’t have that luxury, and I applaud you with the most resounding applause I can muster. Thank you.

My colleagues and I are getting a bit tired of writing the three words “amid the pandemic,” but sometimes that’s the only way to express the backdrop of business and life right now, especially when we have a limited amount of space. Therefore, although it’ll make a few colleagues grit their teeth, here are my favorite stories from the July newsletters I edited for SmartBrief — yes, amid the pandemic.


In the July 9 issue of the BoardSource newsletter, we shared an article in which the CEO of PayPal, Dan Schulman, discussed how PayPal is giving $30 million in grants to Black-owned businesses as a demonstration of support. He explained his philosophy:

“Values can’t just be words on a wall. Otherwise they’re just propaganda. You have to live them, you have to act them out. And you have to demonstrate them visibly.” – Dan Schulman

What does kitty litter have to do with social work?

Business Transformation SmartBrief

I have been fascinated by the fact that the pandemic has led to a change shortage and a general speeding up of our society’s progress toward being a cashless society. In the July 24 issue, one of the summaries included three articles — one about the coin shortage, another about how quickly the world will become cash-free once the pandemic wanes, and one about the various ways grocery chains are responding to the coin shortage — that covered different aspects of this topic. This is the only brief in which I routinely run polls, and here’s what people think about the route to a cashless society:

What does kitty litter have to do with social work?

International City/County Management Association

We have a section in the ICMA SmartBrief that recognizes when local government professionals make transitions such as retirement or beginning their service in a new place. It was such a pleasure to be part of sharing the news of Jane Brautigam’s upcoming retirement as the city manager of Boulder, Colo., in the July 28 issue.

Jane is the current president of ICMA, and I was at the association’s conference last year in October when she took office. Going to the conference gave me such an appreciation for the role its president holds, and I recall the positive message she shared as she took over. I’m so glad I had that opportunity to be a part of ICMA’s annual meeting and to get to know some of our readers.

Here’s an interview with Jane as she began her term:

National Association of Social Workers

Recently, I drove my dad to a single-day surgery clinic so he could have a procedure done. The clinic had told me they had a “shady spot in the parking lot” where I could wait for him (because the lobby is closed to visitors). I didn’t mind waiting in the car (especially now that I finally have a car with air conditioning).

However, I had not given too much thought to restroom options, since they had said the procedure would last 45 minutes. Apparently I’m really bad at medical procedure math, because I took them at their “45 minutes” word and didn’t factor waiting time pre-procedure, prep time and recovery time into the plan.

About half an hour after I had dropped him off, the staff asked me to come get his jewelry so they wouldn’t be responsible for it. When I approached the door for the jewelry, I asked if I could use the restroom. Although the answer wouldn’t have been a firm “no” if I had been pushier, the answer was, “well then we would have to take your temperature” and they clearly did not feel inclined to do that. I asked if I had time to drive somewhere to go to the restroom (this seems hilarious in retrospect) and they said “yes.”

I went to get gas, which I needed to do anyway. That place’s restroom was closed.

Then I figured Starbucks would be a safe bet. After navigating the Starbucks parking lot (why are so many of them so awful?), I went into the establishment and saw a “restrooms closed” sign.

Then I ended up at McDonalds. Their bathrooms were open (limit 5 people at a time). This has been the second time during the pandemic that a McDonalds has saved me when I needed a restroom (thanks, McDonalds).

I would have needed to do the whole hunt all over again if the staff hadn’t found my dad “cute” and wanted me to come in to hear the post-procedure instructions. Thankfully, I was able to use the restroom then (it had been a few hours since the McDonalds trek). I did fail the initial temperature test (maybe because I had been sitting in a hot car for a few hours? I didn’t want to run the air conditioner continuously so I had been alternating window open and A/C on), but I finally passed and was able to use their restroom.

How does this relate to SmartBrief you ask? The whole time I was on the restroom odyssey, I was thinking of an article we shared in the July 24 issue about how there are so many fewer public restroom options during the pandemic. For some homeless people, this apparently has led them to either wear adult diapers or use “5-gallon buckets filled with kitty litter.” What has our society come to when this is the only option for some of our fellow humans?

National Emergency Number Association

Let’s just juxtapose two stories that represent July for the Public Safety SmartBrief from NENA. In the July 28 issue, there was a story with the headline “Agencies advise against calling 9-1-1 about masks.” Then in the July 30 issue, we ran “Experts advise calling 9-1-1 in certain mask situations.” Different places, different policies. Ultimately, while there are limited times when it’s appropriate to call 9-1-1 about a mask situation, it’s not OK to do it to tattle on someone who isn’t following the rules. That clogs up phone traffic and may keep someone whose life is in danger from getting help rapidly.

Reserve Officers Association

In the July 6 issue, we discussed the National Guard’s response to COVID-19. The National Guard has been part of our awesome free testing site here in Tallahassee (I got tested there in May). The Defense Department has approved giving two medals that National Guard members can earn for their service. They are the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Armed Forces Service Medal. These are well-deserved honors for such critical work.

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honorary Society

An article we shared on July 13 about a 120,000-year-old necklace that helped researchers understand how string originated was interesting enough. But here’s what got me: One of the study’s co-authors, Ofer Bar-Yosef, died in March. His wife was the study’s primary author and said, “I know he would have been very happy and proud to see this paper out.” I found this very poignant.

UN Wire

In the July 13 issue, a story discussed the Srebrenica genocide and how nine additional victims of the massacre from 25 years ago had been buried recently. So many things about this story were so sad, but as with so many things about UN Wire, it was the human face of the mother profiled in a video embedded in the story — a mother who lost her husband and her sons — that made this story stay with me.

“I can’t bring them back, I can’t forgive [the perpetrators], and I can’t take revenge.” – Ramiza Gurdic

Also in my SmartBrief World:

The Education Writers Association National Seminar

I participated (virtually of course) in the Education Writers Association National Seminar, and I very much appreciate EWA awarding me a scholarship to attend. My colleague, Kanoe Namahoe, also attended. She and I are working on a wrapup post, so I’ll link to that next month.

For now, I’ll share that one of my favorite sessions was the one with Nic Stone, author of “Dear Martin” (among other books). “Dear Martin” was challenged in Georgia earlier this year. Very few things fire me up like a book challenge. Here’s something Nic Stone said that I agree with wholeheartedly:

“Censorship issues always highlight to me the way adults in positions of authority think about children.” – Nic Stone

A post about anti-racist workplaces

I wrote What is it going to take to get unstuck from racist practices at work? based on a Quartz webinar I attended in June. If your workplace has done something that helped you and your colleagues make progress toward being an anti-racist workplace, I’d love to hear.

Working at Future/SmartBrief

Each month, I share the open positions at SmartBrief and Future for anyone who is interested in being a part of finding and sharing stories through business-to-business newsletters.

wrote in more detail about my experience as a SmartBrief employee here, which may help answer any questions you have. As always, I’m happy to answer inquiries and provide more information about the process.

Open positions at SmartBrief and Future plc can be found at this link. If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer or email me so we can discuss further.

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here. We’re also still producing a brief specific to COVID-19 on Tuesdays, and you can subscribe to it here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us at the site of our parent company, Future; on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram.

What does kitty litter have to do with social work?
Side note: You know this is an old picture because I haven’t gotten my nails done since the pandemic began. :-/

*The views expressed here are my personal opinion and not those of my employer.

3 thoughts on “What does kitty litter have to do with social work?

  1. The public restroom situation – or restaurant bathroom situation – has become nuts during this time, Paula. I recall needing to literally find a somewhat hidden spot in a hospital parking lot while my wife visited dying family. We need to find a better way to be flexible, finding a happy medium between shutting things down and finding some relief and comfort.

    • It truly has. Hopefully we can all work together to find a solution that preserves public health and individual dignity. Thanks for chiming in. I’m sorry about your wife’s family member.

  2. Pingback: Trees, blueberry bogs and video games - Big Green PenBig Green Pen

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