About a year ago, as the coronavirus was just beginning to take hold in Boulder County, it was possible to hope the sudden changes to daily life would pass quickly, and things would return to normal.
But as 2020 progressed and the pandemic lingered, killing at least 250 and sickening about 20,000 in the county, residents found new depths of resiliency.
Even as families struggled with the loss of loved ones, students lost the opportunity to participate in traditions that mark educational milestones, and business owners navigated the economic fallout wrought by the pandemic, people forged new communities and found ways to lift each other up.
As the glimmer of hope brought by the advent of vaccines grows brighter, one thing that remains constant is that no two stories of the virus’s impact are identical.
As we enter another year of pandemic life, the Camera presents these stories of Boulder County residents who have found a way to survive, and even thrive.
Boulder resident continues to lift spirits during pandemic
It’s been a year of change and heartbreak, but through it all, Barbara Crafton has done her best to maintain a sense of normalcy and hope.
As a retired priest who currently assists at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Crafton, 69, continues to lead a prayer service that’s broadcast on Facebook Live every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A few weeks ago, when the Boulder resident was in the hospital to have her pacemaker changed, she led the service on her phone from the hospital bed.
Craft said she initially had hesitations about moving services online but soon realized people needed opportunities for connection. Plus, online church services offer accessibility.
“It’s way better than nothing,” she said. “And in fact, it reaches people maybe you wouldn’t reach if you stayed in your beautiful church building with your stained glass.”
Aside from adjusting to changes with her ministry, Crafton also is “still reeling” from losing her 92-year-old husband, Richard Quaintance, in June. His health declined due to a broken hip, but he died peacefully at home, exactly as Crafton would’ve hoped.
She’s not the same person she was before the pandemic and losing her partner, but she remains positive.
“It’s easy to be discouraged, but it doesn’t cost any more to be hopeful,” she said. “It’s just as possible.”
Ever humble, Crafton is quick to say she hasn’t done anything too special.
“I wouldn’t call any of that extraordinary,” she said. “It’s an example of people just trying to do what they have to do.”
But those who know her see it differently.
Thanks to the pandemic, Barb Huff has never met Crafton in person, but they’re both part of a group of six women who meet weekly for virtual coffee and conversation.
“We are strangers who became friends,” Huff said.
She said Crafton has touched her life and “so many others through her continued service to others during the pandemic in spite of the fact that she lost the love of her life.”
When thinking about people who have made an impact during the pandemic, Huff is quickly reminded of Crafton’s sermon from her hospital bed.
“Words can make a difference, and Barbara knows that,” Huff said.
— Deborah Swearingen
High school senior looks to new chapter
Boulder High senior Haniel Morquecho’s leadership activities and community service netted him an award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation during the pandemic.
He kept his GPA high while taking advanced classes, applied to colleges to follow his older sister and become the second person in his family to attend college, and recently got a second job as he saves money to help with the cost.
“I have this mentality of ‘It is what it is,’” he said. “I can’t really do anything to change it, so I’ve just got to roll with the punches.”
Still, he said, it’s been a tough year.
When schools closed and classes moved online, he said, he had trouble adjusting and would stay up to 3 a.m., then be late for virtual class. This school year, he’s developed a good routine and is better at staying motivated — though it’s still not easy, especially with senioritis kicking in, he said.
“You don’t have any of the rewards of your social life,” he said. “It can be difficult keeping your grades up.”
Another disappointment was the cancellation of a big event.
Not long before the shutdown, he started an internship with Out Boulder County to work on the annual “Night of Noise.” With live events canceled, he and the other interns had to abandon their “Night of Noise” plans and their annual queer prom. While they moved “Night of Noise” online, he said, there wasn’t enough time, and he wasn’t happy with how it turned out.
While he’s looking forward to returning to four days a week of in-person classes after spring break, instead of the current two days, he’s not sure many senior friends will join him. Most stayed online only and likely won’t switch, he said.
With school, he said, it’s the little things he misses the most, including “moments with your friends at the lunch table.”
He stayed connected to school as a “Panther pride” mentor to freshmen at Boulder High and as a member of the school’s Latino Student Organization. Both continued to meet virtually.
He’s also a lifeguard with the city of Boulder, but saw his hours cut because of the pandemic. With the help of a friend, he recently got a second job at Panda Express so he can save more money for college.
He hasn’t decided yet which college he will attend in the fall, but said the financial aid package offered likely will be the deciding factor. He plans to major in early childhood education and psychology and is considering either education or social work as a career.
“I am going to miss high school, but I’m always ready to move on,” he said. “I’m always ready to start a new chapter.”
— Amy Bounds
Lyons resident hopes others find their compassion
Shauna Strecker has one word to describe the past 12 months: brutal.
Strecker, owner of the Lyons bistro and butter bar Bella la Crema, lost three of her closest loved ones in the past year.
Her dad died in February 2020 on her birthday. Her best friend died four months later, and her mom died in December. Strecker’s mom’s Zoom memorial service was on the one-year anniversary of her father’s death.
Strecker’s mother, Ruth, had coronavirus but was on the mend when Strecker received a call that her mom had had a stroke. Strecker rushed to the care facility to see her. She sang, told jokes and played her mother a new music video Strecker had just recorded.
And, for a brief moment, her mom woke up.
“I put my hand on her chest and shook and said, ‘Mama, it’s me.’ And she woke up,” Strecker said. “That’s the last time I saw her and the last time she was really conscious. We laughed and she started crying, and her whole face contorted in pain and I think it’s because she knew she wasn’t coming back. It was just gut-wrenching.”
But Strecker has found moments of light and hope, too. While Bella la Crema has been challenged by lockdowns and restrictions on indoor dining, Strecker started offering online ordering and shipping and is now expanding that part of her operation. She’s working on a memoir, recorded new music and is using social media to maintain and start new friendships.
Strecker said she hopes this year teaches people to give each other deference and to recognize that many folks may be going through something difficult.
“I hope they dig deep into their humanity and find compassion for those who are struggling,” she said. “Everyone is coming through a very difficult time, and I really encourage people to share that with each other.”
— Katie Langford
A counselor for public safety mourns the loss of visibility
Morning meetings, casual drop-ins, a conversation struck up in the parking lot — those used to be moments Marilyn Meyers could depend on to establish face-to-face connection among Longmont’s public safety staff.
But the coronavirus pandemic has limited those opportunities.
Meyers is a psychologist and provides in-house counseling to first responders. She also provides training and serves as an adviser for Longmont’s police, fire and city peer support teams, a group of public safety employees trained to provide day-to-day emotional support and participate in the department’s response to critical incidents.
On a typical Wednesday afternoon, with the sun streaming through the front windows of her office space at Creation Station, 519 Fourth Ave. in Longmont, Meyers said visibility is one of the major ways the pandemic has changed the work she does.
“I find if I’m over at the Safety and Justice Center, people will talk to me in the parking lot,” she said. “Oftentimes just seeing me, I will get a call to say, ‘Hey, Marilyn. Can I make an appointment?’”
Since she started the job in May 2016, Meyers has been working to fight the stigma that surrounds mental health care, and visibility is a big part of normalizing her presence, she said.
Meyers, who has a doctorate in psychology from the University of Denver, made a point of dropping into briefings, which she said have been halted due to the virus.
While she said people may expect need for counseling services to have climbed, Meyers said she felt like people “withdrew into themselves.” It wasn’t until early this year when Meyers said she started to see demand for her counseling services rise. Today, she’s seeing about 15 people on average per week.
“Now, people are reaching out far more,” she said. “The predominant thing I’m seeing is that overall anxiety and the long term of change that has happened to their work — it’s the same with everybody, not just first responders. But, the first responder people don’t get to stay home. They have to be out in that environment of COVID.”
With wearing masks and following social distancing, Meyers said she’s been able to maintain one-on-one therapy and provide help to those out there working to help community members every day.
“It actually takes courage to walk in and say, ‘I need help with this,’” Meyers said. “It’s not the other way around. It’s not the weak person who comes to see me, it’s the person with courage.”
— Kelsey Hammon
DA’s Community Protection Division forced to adapt to serve residents
In a year of isolation and social distancing, the members of the Community Protection Division of the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office have found themselves trying to serve residents even as the meaning of “community” was turned on its head.
“We are really the main arm for community outreach from the DA’s Office,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Christian Gardner-Wood said. “That is anywhere from consumer protection to doing presentations to high schoolers and college students abut the criminal justice system.”
But after the pandemic struck, Gardner-Wood said many of the community hubs they used to frequent, like senior centers and schools, were no longer meeting, and so many of the vulnerable populations the Community Protection Division helps were not able to get access to even virtual presentations.
“It’s definitely been, to be honest, a little harder transition for us,” Gardner-Wood said.
Gardner-Wood said prosecutors also fear many more instances of crimes like child abuse or elder abuse that might be reported by members of the community have gone unseen.
“The issue of community — it has been hard on us to not have that same social interaction,” Gardner-Wood said. “But the other part of the community is just that idea that somebody is there to support you and see you and offer assistance.”
Then there is the matter of pandemic-specific scams that have arisen in the last year, with scammers taking advantage of everything from vaccine and test access to unemployment and stimulus checks.
“These scammers were very quick to adapt to the issue of the moment and using that to their advantage to take advantage of individuals that were vulnerable during this pandemic,” Gardner-Wood said.
So the Community Protection Division had to be just as adaptable. Rather than working with groups, they focused more on community bulletins and alerts and virtual town halls.
“Even though we weren’t presenting on it live, it was being shared with folks that needed it,” Gardner-Wood said.
But with a vaccine available, Gardner-Wood hopes the Community Protection Division can soon be back out in the actual community.
“While virtual town halls and bulletins were really good based on what we could do, now knowing we can engage a little bit more gives us that hope that we can really start educating the community and prevent some of these issues,” he said.
— Mitchell Byars
Library assistant looks forward to connecting with patrons in person
Joe Lopez, an assistant librarian at the Longmont Public Library, said he misses the in-person, inside-the-building presence of library patrons.
Lopez said he also misses being among a full-size staff at any given time, a situation resulting from health safety rules limiting the numbers of staffers allowed to physically work working inside the library.
Since the onset of the pandemic, “we don’t deal with the public that much, at least face to face,” Lopez said, with the library no longer open for people to visit and peruse the collection.
“I think people are not only missing the interaction, but are missing being able to just come in and browse,” he said, noting he’s heard that parents have reported missing bringing their children in for story time.
Library staff does communicate with patrons over the telephone, and Lopez said he recently spoke with a caller whose voice he recognized because when she’d come into the library before the pandemic, they would discuss movies.
Lopez, who has worked at Longmont’s library for a little more than four years, said in some ways, however, the Longmont Public Library staff members “are actually busier than we were before COVID-19.”
Lopez said because of having to reduce the size of in-person staff in the library to comply with county health guidelines, “those of us who are in the building have had to take on extra duties to keep our operations running smoothly.”
At the same time, “we’ve congruently added more services” during the pandemic, he said, citing examples such as curbside services for people to get and return materials at a location outside the building’s east entrance, a “Text-A-Librarian” program, and “Pick A Topic” bags that let patrons request a librarian-filled bag of materials related to a topic selected by the patron.
“So there’s more stress at work than there was before,” Lopez said. “There’s simultaneously less camaraderie than there was before, and more because we’ve all doubled down and needed to support each other through this stressful time.
“Oh, and we never wore masks before. I miss seeing not only the faces of the patrons, but my coworkers’ faces as well,” Lopez added.
— John Fryar
Dairy Arts Center finds ways to entertain amid closure
While the Dairy Arts Center closed its doors in March of last year, day-to-day operations haven’t slowed down for Executive Director Melissa Fathman.
Offering the community a myriad of opportunities to connect and engage through virtual and socially distanced events, she and staff have kept entertainment flourishing while the 42,000-square-foot art space remains shuttered.
“Creativity and resiliency are intertwined concepts like woven threads in a fabric,” Fathman said. “The very nature of a creative mind is to see new possibilities. And, during this past year of sickness, death, chaos and violence, it was the creative types who provided hope, humor and strength. And, although we collectively learned the things we all once counted on may not always be there, one thing is clear to me — human creativity can never be stifled.”
From hosting a “Virtual Vacation Variety Show” benefiting the center’s COVID-19 relief fund to providing in-lobby magic shows and online poetry workshops, the center remains dedicated to finding new ways to inspire and amuse.
“One of the best memories from last summer was during one of our outdoor loading dock concerts that happened to coincide with inclement weather,” Fathman said. “Hazel Miller — a powerhouse of joy — was performing as the clouds started to roll in. Undeterred by the situation, with raindrops running down her face, she kept on singing and laughing, and the audience, so starved to experience a live performance, was literally singing and dancing in the rain.”
Just when the Dairy will be able to open for full-capacity productions is unknown.
“It’s so hard to predict the future of this pandemic,” Fathman said. “We continue to follow the health and safety guidance provided by our state and local government. So far we’ve been experimenting with holding events in our lobby.”
May 8, the Dairy is hoping to open its first art exhibition since lockdown.
“We are primarily planning for another season of outdoor performances and drive-in movies,” Fathman said. “At the same time, I have been slowly hiring back staff so that we will be ready to open our theaters to the public, once it is safe to do so. Whatever the future brings, we will be ready.”
— Kalene McCort
A Louisville volunteer helps to bridge the growing need in her community
In the parking lot outside Community Food Share, volunteer Becca Fischer spends Wednesday afternoon at her post with a clipboard in hand.
She is the first point of contact for people lining up to get groceries through the Feeding Families pantry program. The line of cars can grow to wrap around the block. Fischer, who speaks English and Spanish, alternates languages as she peers through car windows, working to determine what families need to get by.
“I’m going through large categories: Do you want mixed berries? Frozen meat?” Fischer said.
Leading up to the pandemic, Fischer took a sabbatical, after choosing to leave her job as an in-house lawyer for a hospitality corporation. With a desire to help her Louisville community, Fischer, 56, who has two grown children, said it felt like the right time to volunteer.
In the lines every Wednesday, Fischer sees many different needs: The need to fill a dinner plate, the need to find a job, the need to talk with someone, hug someone and to be seen.
“The lines have been getting longer over the course of the pandemic,” Fischer said. “What has been eye-opening to me is it’s members of our community that are from every walk of life.”
Sometimes the need is simply to ask for help.
When a father swung into the line to get groceries one day, Fischer noticed his clear distress. The father had lost his job and had to summon his courage to ask for help.
“He had been in that precarious situation for many months, before he decided he would come and get in this line,” Fischer said. “I said to him, ‘It’s so important that you made that decision. We are so glad to have you here.’ You could tell it was hard.”
Julia McGee, Community Food Share director of communications, said 200 households typically visit the program Wednesdays.
When Fischer thinks about the pandemic’s biggest toll on her community, she thinks of “spiritual isolation” — it’s the inability to hug one another and be with people that has taken an emotional toll on everybody, she said.
At her post on Wednesdays, Fischer sees the chance to help people get resources, share in conversation and provide a bit of dependability in a year fraught with the unknown. It’s not just those she helps that get something out of it.
“Our clients say how much we help them, but it really helps us,” Fischer said. “This volunteer work has been fabulous. I couldn’t recommend it more to people.”
— Kelsey Hammon
CU Boulder student chooses to focus on the positive
Throughout the pandemic, community has kept University of Colorado Boulder senior Izzy Martinez going.
Born and raised in Boulder, Martinez is now preparing to graduate with a degree in communications and women and gender studies.
Martinez’s college experience was upended when the university switched from in-person classes to all Zoom, all the time, in March 2020. She struggled with loneliness over the summer. She’s grieved the loss of a normal senior year, of a normal graduation celebration and commencement ceremony.
But what Martinez chooses to focus on, again and again, is the good.
“I think one thing COVID has really allowed me to do is to sit with myself,” she said. “I think that’s something in our busy lifestyles you don’t really get to do, so you really get to recognize who you are as a person and who your friends are, who is closest to you, as well as what you really love to do.”
Martinez has turned to technology as a social lifeline, keeping up with friends through video and phone calls and attending local virtual events. She and her boyfriend started participating in online escape rooms in different states.
“Thinking back to four years ago and starting freshman year, excited and ready for a new adventure, who could have expected this could be happening?” she said. “But I honestly can say I don’t feel scared for the future, because over the past year I’ve seen I have the ability to work with the challenges that come.”
She’s also seen members of the community show up to support each other, from attending protests over the summer to restaurants offering sliding-scale payment options based on income.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that we as humans are powerful. We don’t give ourselves the credit as to what we can do. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard, but if we work together as a whole, we can hopefully come out brighter on the other side,” she said.
— Katie Langford