FORT MEADE, Md., Dec. 18, 2020 —
As the Agency approaches the end of a difficult year that brought numerous challenges to people across the globe, appreciating those we care for and the things we have is more important than ever.
The Office of Information Management (OIM) found a way to celebrate what its workforce is thankful for through the creation of “The Thankful Tree,” currently on display outside the organization’s workspace at NSA headquarters.
The Thankful Tree isn’t your ordinary holiday tree. Instead of the typical ornaments, this tree is decorated with old-fashioned plastic light bulbs, all individually decorated by the OIM workforce and filled with messages stating what each person is thankful for this year.
OIM Chief Stephanie Bartolowits bought the bulbs to be distributed throughout her organization.
“The tree went up on 19 November,”Ms. Bartolowits said. “On 23 November, the bulbs were delivered along with instructions to write something they are thankful for and to place it inside the bulb. They could decorate the bulb any way they wanted, and supplies were provided for that purpose.”
Once the individuals wrote what they were thankful for and decorated their bulb, they placed them in the drop-off box designated for their division. Ms. Bartolowits, with help from others, then placed the bulbs on the tree as they were completed and collected.
The vibrant display features a light-up sign with the word “HOPE” in gleaming letters, along with a letter explaining the purpose behind the tree.
The letter lists several things to be thankful for, including being able to come to work and earn a paycheck; spending time with kids and grandkids; good health; teachers; and essential workers.
Added the letter, “This will give us a positive way to celebrate the things and people we are grateful for in our lives. Let’s end 2020 with positivity and HOPE.”
Other organizations joined in on decorating bulbs and sharing the things they are thankful for amid the pandemic.
“This was a great way to celebrate our amazing work family together and keep us connected,” Ms. Bartolowits said. “I’m a people person, and I absolutely think the world of the people working for me. I’m really missing seeing them this year, so I wanted to do something that raised the morale, kept us positive, and let them know we care about them.
OIM has been putting a tree on display for 15 years. Its tradition is to gather as an organization for cookies and hot chocolate while decorating a holiday tree, following the organization’s annual December Town Hall. Unfortunately, that tradition could not be followed this year due to the prohibition of large gatherings due to COVID-19. Yet, OIM leadership realized they needed a way to raise the spirits of their workforce. This year’s observance is especially poignant after two of their colleagues passed away earlier this year from non-coronavirus related causes.
“Everyone in the workforce is struggling with issues from the pandemic,” Ms. Bartolowits said. “We wanted to do something positive, because, even in the worst time, there is always something to be thankful for. So rather than focus on the negative, we decided to look at what we do have, be positive and thankful, and [remember] there is still hope that things will improve.”