After almost 20 years in warehouse management, the COVID-19 pandemic redirected Cornelius Chandler to an opportunity to make an impact in his community.

Cornelius is a COVID-19 Response Team Member at Breakthrough, part of the Cook County Workforce Partnership’s COVID Contact Tracing Corp. The Corp consists of teams at 31 community-based organizations, which answer Chicagoans’ COVID-related questions, set up vaccination appointments, and connect residents to resources.

Leading with Love and Compassion

Cornelius has always had a passion for helping his neighbors. 

“After I lost my job because of COVID, I heard Breakthrough was opening these contact tracing positions through a friend, and I shot for it. I felt like God put me there to grow the seed that was already in me,” he says.

As he speaks to individuals who are fearful or in difficult situations, he said it’s important to speak from the heart and to treat others the way he wants to be treated. “I want people to listen to me, I want compassion, I want love,” he says. “Through God’s grace, He’s shown me ultimate love and compassion…so in a sense, I’m kind of obligated to be this way. I’m kind of obligated to say ‘I love you’ or ‘whatever I can do I’m going to do’ with all my heart.”

In his position, Cornelius not only provides COVID-19 and vaccination-related information; he also connects residents to food pantries, mental health services, and a variety of other resources. 

He said simply being his authentic self and an active listener is critical to build trust and help his neighbors in the ways they need most.

How History Will Remember the COVID-19 Pandemic

As he looks back on the last two years, Cornelius said the pandemic has magnified health disparities and structural issues and focused attention on important, long-term efforts in our communities. 

“I think this situation exposed that on a national level. It changed the course of the way people think about health in their community,” he says.

With hopefulness he added that the job opportunities created by the Corp for hundreds of individuals will have a ripple effect for generations. “The good is that 600 people in Chicago got jobs,” he says. “The good is that 600 people are more knowledgeable about how to help others.”

And, perhaps most of all, as we reflect on the challenges of the pandemic, he hopes that all of us “understand how important the capacity of help, the capacity of love, the capacity of working together, just how important it really is.”