One year ago, on March 10th, which also happened to be my youngest child's 23rd birthday, I left DRC at 5:30 pm with a raging fever, uncontrollable shaking, and body aches (that came on like a steam train), as I have never experienced before (and never want to). No, I didn't have COVID, just a "death may be less painful" case of the flu. Little did I know that closing the Center for the last three days of that week for my illness would coincide with a pandemic and extend through the remainder of our academic year.
In the beginning, I was laid flat by the aches, fever, and utter exhaustion of this particular flu virus. I had no thought of (or desire to think about) DRC or "my" kids. My main concerns revolved around getting down the stairs to use the bathroom and refresh my glass of lemon water and cup of ginger tea - my only sustenance for days on end.
That second week, we did try to set up a Discord server for the DRC members to connect, do art, play games, etc. But besides a couple of kids and our staff person who set it up, it had little engagement, and I did not have the physical capacity to do anything but witness its failure from the sidelines. Consequently, beyond occasional check-ins, the DRC kiddos were happy to be totally on their own for the remainder of our academic year.
Those months gave me time to work on an idea (that never got any traction) to provide services to public school kids who were stuck at home doing remote learning. I also took on creative endeavors and sorted through hundreds of blog posts (with the idea of compiling them into a book). As you may have noticed, most of those projects fell by the wayside as the pandemic raged through the summer.
The reason being - I couldn't focus on anything - even reading. For someone who often devours a book a day, I have not been able to concentrate or settle long enough to read even a paragraph this entire year, except the one book I managed to get through in December.
The disconcerting inability to concentrate (on anything - even creative ideas) and the budding feelings of uselessness were beginning to wear on me. I needed a purpose! Therefore, in July, I went back to the Center a few days each week to prepare to bring the kids back in September. In August, I was in full gear. And by Labor Day, both of the Centers were physically ready. We had one staff person and two apprentices through the One-Stop Career Center in Canton and a part-time staff person in Lawrenceville. We had a complete COVID safety plan, including an outdoor shelter in Canton built by one of our families, SLU Community Based Learning (CBL) volunteers joining us remotely, and a Distance Learning Program in the works.
Little did I know that those last two pieces were the linchpins that propelled us to where we are today. Those original seven CBL students facilitated fifteen virtual sessions on Google Meet each week. They provided the impetus needed to offer additional classes by DRC staff through the remote platform for our distance learners.
COVID numbers in St. Lawrence County began climbing again in late October. It was clear, by mid-November, that we needed to once again go fully remote for the safety of our entire crew. We were able to continue our schedule only because we had established the routine of virtual sessions. The kids happily engaged and chose sessions that interested them. Currently, our calendar has expanded, with a total of twelve CBL students facilitating at least two sessions each, plus DRC staff filling in with other requested classes, all offered through the DRC Discord server.
Even now, once again, teetering on the edge of angst and frustration, I can look back at this timeline and feel immense gratitude for the gifts this past year has brought forth.
If it weren't for this pandemic, our kiddos would not have figured out, those first couple of months last Spring, that they were perfectly capable of making independent choices about their education and life. We would not have a distance learning program with very cool kiddos adding to our already inspiring community. We would not have a formal schedule - remote or otherwise. And I would not have had the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate everything we have accomplished over these past seven years - as an organization.
Thank you to everyone who has stuck with us this year. I look forward to unwrapping the surprises the next 365 days have in store, with the knowledge that every one of them (even the painful and unsettling moments) will provide an opportunity for learning and growth.
As part of Women's History Month, we honor Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker, an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist. In 1982, she published the novel The Color Purple, for which she won the National Book Award for hardcover fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
We have begun to roll out the social media video clips that Liam Crossen Films captured those last few days we were together at the Centers in November. Stay tuned to our Social Media platforms to see our kiddos talk about their experiences at DRC.
As seen above, we are also honoring some inspiring women for Women's History Month on our social media.
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