2020 was a difficult year to say the least, and we have emerged on the other side battered, grumpy, and filled with a longing to see our Shrine family again. But we HAVE emerged, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are being distributed, cases are falling; and, although it is still early, it looks like things are going to open up. I am anxious to get us back up and doing what we love doing–having a good time and helping our kids, across all our Hospitals and Health Centers; but I want to do it wisely and safely.
In 2020 (and 2021) we lost some of our largest fundraisers for Aleppo–our circus, and every show we rent the building for; but thanks to the efforts of the Divan under the leadership of Illustrious Gary Bartlett, we have secured a lease on the upper parking lot area which is helping to fill the voids caused by the losses. This is putting to use a section of our property that is largely unused save for a few times a year and is a great benefit to Aleppo.
One thing I want to dispel, once and for all, is that Illustrious Gary had an “easy year.” I have heard it several times’ and the fact is, it’s the farthest thing from the truth. Illustrious Gary was dealt a bad hand, and he played it very well. He had to deal with massive revenue losses, employment layoffs and furloughs, a new method of communicating, occupancy restrictions, countless phone calls, new Imperial rules and restrictions, all while maintaining our facility and keeping the lights on. This was NOT an easy year; it was a year without the visible events that we have come to associate with the Potentate, receptions, trips and all the “fun” stuff the Potentate does. It was one difficult year, and the behind the scenes work was multiplied and made more difficult by the pandemic. If you see Illustrious Gary in the near future (and I hope you do), stop and shake his hand and say thank you, because what you didn’t see during this “easy year” was the hard work, difficult decisions, and great disappointments that this “Pandemic Potentate” had to deal with.
2021 is starting with similar disappointments. We have cancelled the Smoker, the Circus, the Ball, Shows, Ceremonials, and the Train Trip to the Grand Canyon, and we are facing similar financial circumstances. I would ask that if someone is looking to donate to Aleppo that you instruct them to make it to our “General Fund.” Despite all of this, I am ever hopeful that we WILL get back to “having fun in 21.” It may be a slow start, but we will get there again. We have already been approached for fall parades, and our Chief of Staff Ernie Pearlstein is looking to secure as many parades as he can get. I have instructed our COS to offer a special 2021-only rate for our parades in an effort to secure as many as we can get.
In a fit of optimism, I have ordered steak knives for our June ceremonial (albeit a smaller amount than usual) and we are proceeding forward with our Feztival of Trees plans. If you want to serve on the committee for the Feztival, please contact my new appointment, our new 2st, Gary D. Waters, for information. Gary was appointed because of my strong belief in his abilities, his unerring dedication to the Shrine, and his almost fanatical belief in our mission to help the kids.
Let 2021 be a chance to reaffirm your beliefs in the Shrine mission! As we begin to slowly open things up again, join us! Make an effort to re-acclimate yourself with your friends and the fun we had and will have again. Most importantly remember why you became a Shriner and come out to support Aleppo so we can continue to support the Shrine Kids, in all our facilities, who still need our help 24/7 – 365, pandemic or not. The work we do and support did not quarantine and/or “lock down.” Those kids still need our help every day, and that will continue to be true. Do not let COVID beat us or have an ill effect on what we do. Support Aleppo so we can continue to support our Kids!
I hope to see you all at the very next opportunity!
Thank you for your support and your vote of confidence when you elected me.
Robert S. Johnson
Aleppo Shrine Center