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 Times-Call presents these stories of Boulder County residents who have found a way to survive, and even thrive.
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., 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
Dacono councilman honors late wife with service to community
Dacono City Councilman Danny Long, 73, lost his wife on Aug. 4 due to coronavirus complications, just 35 days after she found out she was terminally ill and days after he had been released from the hospital himself.
“I just wouldn’t know what to do without these people (Dacono community) who have become my tribe,” Long said while seated in a corner booth at El Taco Loco II and holding back tears.
“I talk to these people constantly — togetherness — that’s what our community has given each other, even amid the lockdowns, the technology nightmares and the fears, togetherness is what we created when we were supposed to be isolated,” he said. “And we paid it forward to our community in a big way.”
Long decided to honor his wife’s memory by continuing to dedicate himself to a life of service in his community. So Long, along with many other Glens neighbors including Mary Fischer, 79, and Ricky Wittman, 68, partnered with St. Vrain Habitat for Humanity to give Dacono residents a bit of hope during the highs and lows the pandemic has brought.
The Pride of The Glens, a resident-led coalition partnering with St. Vrain Habitat in The Glens of Dacono, has provided food assistance to 121 individuals in 32 households and housing assistance for 13 households so far, as part of their COVID-19 response,” St. Vrain Habitat for Humanity Neighborhood Revitalization Manager Krystal Winship Erazo wrote.
“Everything we did we had to do through the nightmare of Zoom meetings, but I’m most especially proud of the fact that we were able to get the city, state and (Colorado Department of Transportation) to recognize that the intersection of Highway 52 and Frederick Way is extremely dangerous and are now working at making it safer — but haven’t started the work that needs to be done just yet,” Long said.
Long, Wittman and Fischer, along with other coalition members, not only helped get precoronavirus grants they secured for revitalization modified to help feed Dacono, but they also worked with the city’s code enforcement officers to go help residents who were disabled, sick or otherwise unable to keep up with yardwork.
“Many plans, many. We have so many plans left to continue to draw us together, and we are gearing up for a COVID-safe spring event now, no one needs to do it alone, that’s why we have neighbors, that’s what this pandemic has taught us all,” Long said.
— April Morganroth
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
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
Band director finds creative ways to keep music going
Zach Brake, middle school instrumental music director at Frederick’s Thunder Valley K-8, described schools closing about a year ago in March as unbelievable and a shock, giving teachers little time to adapt lessons to an online format.
“We had many talks as band directors virtually, brainstorming and coming up with different ideas,” said Brake, who teaches both band and orchestra.
His students learned remotely through the end of last school year, then stayed remote as school started in the fall. Many returned in person two days a week in October, then went back to remote full time at the end of November as cases rose. This semester, most are back to a two-day-a-week, in-person hybrid.
He also had students in person four days a week because they need extra support, those who were remote only and those attending LaunchED Virtual Academy but taking his class as an elective.
“I’m always asking myself if I am reaching all of these kids,” he said. “All things considered, we’re doing OK. Progress is happening, but obviously it’s not happening as fast as usual.”
Instrumental music programs faced unique challenges. Brace had to help sixth grade students pick instruments without letting them try them first, as well as making sure there were enough donated instruments for everyone who needed them. Because of a staffing issue, his school didn’t offer sixth grade choir so all sixth graders took either band or orchestra.
“It was a lot of late nights going through the inventory, but I was happy to do it,” he said. “I know every kid has an instrument and every kid has a chance to have a music education. I’ve been pretty impressed with this group of sixth graders and how good their attitude is.”
Once students returned in person, there were more rules. To play together, students need musician’s masks and instrument bell covers with high-rated filters. For the musician’s masks, Brake cut openings in 900 surgical masks so his students wouldn’t have to buy them.
Students also must be at least 6 feet apart while playing. They can only play inside for 30 minutes, then must clear the space so it can air out for 30 minutes.
Now with students returning four days a week after spring break, he will have classes that are closer to full size and will have to get creative again. Most likely, he said, that will mean playing mainly outside.
Recently getting his second vaccine dose, he said, was “a huge relief.”
“It just felt like a huge miracle,” he said. “It felt like there was hope.”
— Amy Bounds