COVID-19’s Silver Linings: Feeding Dreams and Feeding Your Soul

     Beth Walker of Bethel, Maine, is grateful for the way COVID restrictions paused her hectic life.  With time to reflect on what was important to her, she focused on self-care and a dream she always had.  

      Before the first COVID case was reported in Maine, Beth’s employment working  at Dicocoa’s Bakery & Café, as a Jackie of all Trades, ended. Because of the owner’s health history, the café closed early March 2020. 

     Beth applied for unemployment and found that she needed to tap into her background with the state legislature to move her claim forward.  She messaged her rep for help to complete the process. With assistance from an aide, Beth navigated through the necessary steps to success.  Her husband Frank, who is also a chef, wasn’t quite as lucky, and the process took 1 ½ months.

     Survival on the farm wasn’t a problem for the Walkers.  Beth and Frank had a supply of their own canned produce. When Dicocoa’s closed, the owner sent her employees home with food.

     Beth said that her stress initially came from not seeing people. That stress evaporated as Beth and Frank found that they were thriving with the changes. Beth said lockdown gave them time to think about who they wanted to give their energy to. “You realize who your real and true friends are.”  

     Beth described their life before COVID, trapped in Bethel’s culture. Evenings with friends were spent socializing in town, going to the pub and drinking a lot.  COVID removed the Walkers from Bethel’s alcohol-based food industry.

     Beth said, “We were done with not feeling great.”  She wants to use her time to be with people who spark interest. “When you find a group of people on the same path, that peer pressure is gone.”

     Dicocoa’s was not able to offer her full-time again: Beth was unemployed form March through June. During the summer and fall, she worked at Pie Tree Orchard until it closed Nov. 4 as COVID spiked again. 

     COVID restrictions were freeing for the Walkers. Beth has more energy and ambition.  Being healthy is part of her sustainable living goal. “My goal is to have a farmstand business. COVID was a God-saver for me and a kick in the pants.” 

     Beth had her moments of uncertainty and self-help talks. “I think you have to be conscious of your positivity. I can fall down that rabbit hole of, ‘Can I do it? Do I want to?’”

     Beth and Frank are making a living, fulfilling a dream and thriving.  The chefs are cooking and baking at home.  Customers pick up on La Ferme’s screened-in porch. Whoopie pies, cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip cookies are weekend staples. 

La Ferme offers homemade and farm fresh food on the porch. (Photo by Beth Wallker).

Reflections on “A Glimpse of Life: The Pulitzer Photographs”

    “A Glimpse of Life: The Pulitzer Photographs” is a show and tell of why. Why do the winning photojournalists do what they do? Why does it matter? What compels any photojournalists to snap that distinguished photo?

     Photojournalists are compelled to capture that split second in time that no human eye, video or story can capture and freeze in time in quite the same way. A picture can stand alone and speak volumes, but it also has the potential to create curiosity and motivate action. All photojournalists know that seeing is believing.  Their photos bring life to words. A story no longer relies on the eyes of a writer. You see it for yourself through the lens of their camera. The photo becomes personal to and for the viewer.

     A photo becomes worthy of a Pulitzer Prize when it can’t be ignored. There is something about it that distinguishes it from others. It is an image that has become a standard of understanding. It may be a photo of an ordinary person that causes us to pause and share a common experience. It may be a photo depicting someone or something, though far removed from the view, that shows exactly what it was like for that split second. More than showing us, it challenges us to feel.

   Some Pulitzer Prize photos compel you to share a common experience with photo’s subject or the person next to you. Regardless of personal opinions about a subject, a photo is evidence of the human experience. It allows a step into someone else’s experience. 

   The Pulitzer Prize photo’s story is a little like the story told of the little boy throwing starfish back into the sea. He was asked, “Why bother? You can’t make a difference. There are too many.” His response, “It makes a difference to that one.” The photo shows the “that one.” 

     Some Pulitzer Prize photos draw the viewer to stare in shock, horror or disbelief at something it’s easier to not see. They teach. They remind. Others make us smile or celebrate.

     Watching the video of the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima and freeze into the iconic Joe Rosenthal 1945 photo, it was easy to see how the photo captured the attention of Americans. Against the backdrop of a gray and cloudy sky, the soldiers work together to raise Old Glory to fly high with the rubble of war beneath their feet. One soldier’s job is to keep the pole firmly planted as the others lift a partially furled flag up and toward him. They are uniformed with their helmets on, and it takes careful examination to count six men. One can imagine that that is the way these men would want it – not to see individuals but, instead, the band of brothers.  “Something about that still moment in time…touches people.” –Carol Guzy. Americans saw the flag penetrate Japanese soil and tasted victory.

Iwo Jima.

Spotlight: ‘Church Allowed Abuse by Priests for Years

     On Jan. 6, 2002, the Boston Globe’s headlines put the Boston archdiocese in their spotlight: “Church Allowed Abuse by Priests for Years: Aware of Geoghan record, archdiocese still shuttled him from parish to parish.” This story was a shock to most, an indictment on others, and a voice for the victims.  

     Widespread and systemic child sex abuse was the biggest story since  9/11 for Boston Catholic families. Shock waves hit around the world. 

   “Spotlight” shows how the Boston Globe’s investigative team, Spotlight, challenged their culture, faith and friends in search of the truth. Their investigation revealed the many layers of hushed silence. It exposed how the church manipulated a faithful Boston Catholic culture to cover up its sins.     

     The script and actors are incredible in their portrayal of what being from Boston and being Catholic meant in 2001. It also shows what it meant to be an outsider. 

     Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), the new executive editor, was the outsider with fresh eyes. Marty was not Boston-born and raised, and he was not Catholic. He was an outsider in a city where that was considered a deficiency. Marty came to the paper with a reputation for budget cuts. With two strikes against him, he requested a meeting with the editor of Spotlight, Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), and the managing assistant editor, Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery).  

    Marty familiarized himself with the city and the newspaper before the meeting. But when he suggested that Robby change the focus of Spotlight’s investigation, the men were not immediately sold on Marty’s idea.

     The outsider editor, with a 53 percent Catholic subscriber base, requested that the team investigate Cardinal Bernard Law’s (Lou Cariou) handling of molestation allegations. The men hedged, but Marty pressed. “This strikes me as an essential story for a newspaper.” Motivated a little by the outsider’s authority and a little by conviction, Spotlight began an investigation.

    Robby, Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Matt Carrol (Brian d’Arcy) and Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Spotlight’s team, shared the same Boston Catholic background but dug in deep to follow wherever the truth leads. 

Fighting Crime and Catching Villains: ‘All the President’s Men’

     In “All the President’s Men,” the superheroes are crime reporters fighting for truth, justice and the American way in metropolis. But in this true story of deceit at the highest level, the villains are all the president’s men. It is the story of how two investigative reporters, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), exposed a cover-up that shocked the nation and toppled a president. 

Pictured: Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman).

    On June 17, 1972, the arrest of five men for breaking into the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate building didn’t attract much attention — not even from the newspaper. Yet it was curious that the burglars had money with sequential serial numbers on the bills. Other possessions were odd as well – cameras and three pen-sized tear gas guns. 

    When crime reporter Woodward arrived at the arraignment, things just didn’t line up. Counsel arrangements invited curiosity. The burglars were three Cuban exiles, a Cuban American and an ex-CIA agent James W. McCord Jr. (Richard Herd). The reporters’ investigation revealed that the cover-up of the bugging of the headquarters traced directly to the White House.

    Without the keen detective work, dogged investigation and courage of Bernstein and Woodward, the real story might have been hidden for years or forever. In 1973, Nixon resigned.

    Woodward and Bernstein chased down one lead after another using rotary phones and notepads. They documented their stories, pecking away on typewriters. Without Google and databases, they poured through records and phone books.  

     Their informant, Deep Throat (Hal Holbook), was cryptic. Sources played games to confirm what they knew without speaking the words. They confirmed facts by what they didn’t say or how they said it.

     All the president’s men were connected, and the investigation is dangerous. The story of the Watergate Scandal is not fiction. The risks for the press to get it right were high. The stakes for the freedom of the press, and the future of democracy were high. When Bernstein and Woodward admitted to miscommunication with a source, they went to the home of executive editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards).

   In the iconic scene, Bradlee says, “We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this, except…First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press. And maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys f— up again, I’m going to get mad.” 

    But it does matter. The superheroes keep fighting. The power of the Constitution is their weapon. And moviegoers have a front row to the action.  

    History tells how the story ends, but the movie compels the viewer to think, What if? What if free speech was denied? What if the press was silenced? Hindsight is 20/20, but this movie makes the audience grateful for the foresight of the Framers of the Constitution and the power of the press.

    Almost 50 years later, when Americans can choose news sources by their slant, fake news is a rally cry, and cancel culture is the new catchphrase and fear. This movie shows what integrity in reporting looks like. It proves that the power of the press can expose corruption at its highest level.


Perspectives of Preschool Teacher Moms During COVID-19

     Paula Brousseau is a single mom with two children. She’s also a classroom support aide for the Early Head Start program at York County Community Action.  When COVID closed schools, she worried about her children, and her children that she Zoomed with for a half hour each week.

     In March 2020, when the Head Start program closed, Paula was able to focus on her family for two weeks while the program tried to figure out the next steps. The school decided that the teachers would Zoom with the little ones. 

     Paula’s students are all under the age of 3. Paula said that it was rough at first. “We did a lot of strange ideas to keep them occupied.” She said, “We did a lot of crying…. We have kids at home, and these are our work kids. There’s no difference in how we treat our kids at home and our work kids…. It was really hard to say ‘Bye’ every week and not seeing them for a week.” Neglect was not a concern, but she worried about any financial burden that parents might have.

     Paula worried because she shared the parents’ experience. She received her regular pay for 20 hours per week, but she consistently worked 30 before COVID, so she had a deficit in her regular budget. Paula understood what the parents were going through and could empathize. With housing, MaineCare and food stamps, she said that she was able to budget and get by. 

     Restrictions made her dependent on her boyfriend. That was hard for Paula, but things were tough enough without taking two children into stores to buy essentials if she did not need to.

     In addition to the weekly half-hour Zoom with her students, Paula did hours of training. Paula’s son has an Individualized Education Program and Zoomed with his specialist, but she knew he needed more. She supplemented activities for her son on her own. 

     Before COVID, her daughter lived with her father in New Hampshire and attended school there, because Paula had to work during the week.  Her daughter was able to stay five weeks at a time with her and return to her dad’s for two weeks.  Paula said that it was frustrating to homeschool and plan around everyone’s Zoom meetings. They went outside a lot.  Even when the parks were closed, they took picnics and played in the fields.                                                                             

     Paula is grateful for being home with her children during the summer. By mid-August, the time came for her to return to YCCA, but her children were still home. She was able to stay home on the Family Medical Leave Act under the CARES Act until her children went back to school.  It was a financial hit for her as the amount she receives is three-quarters of her pay. Paula said that she was angry with her employment for a while because she felt there was an alternative that could have been worked out. 

     When Paula returned to her class, it was with half enrollment, based on priority. She continues to have Wednesdays off under FMLA because her son is home.  Her daughter is back with her dad while Paula is working, but with ADHD she is having a hard time.  

     One of the biggest challenges of COVID is not seeing her family in Massachusetts until the recent lifting of the governor’s mandate. She said that it hurts, but that isn’t her biggest loss. Paula said it’s “Freedom…. When I’m not allowed to take my kids to the park…. When I’m looked at funny because I’m a single mother and I’m bringing my kids to the grocery store.”

COVID-19 Leaves Lasting Impact on Local College

    In March 2020, a brutal tidal wave hit York County Community College in Wells, Maine. Now, almost a year later, silver linings are emerging. 

     YCCC’s academic dean, Doreen Rogan, D.A., believes in some ways the college was ready for the impact of COVID. “We lucked out….  Community colleges in general, and YCCC in particular, we’ve been doing online instruction for over 20 years.” Forty percent of students took online classes before COVID. The college had an eLearning support specialist in place. Instructors were using a new online learning program better suited for smartphones. Despite luck, challenges made an unexpected and lasting impact.

Student Success Commons’ tutors Zoom to welcome students to spring semester, York County Community College, Wells, Maine, Jan. 19, 2021. (Photo by YCCC)

     YCCC was on spring break at the beginning of March 2020 when safety concerns began to surface in Maine. Rogan said, “It was like every moment there was breaking news and we were all trying to figure out what to do and how to react.” Students and instructors were traveling. A canceled conference stranded culinary chair and chef, Krista Marvel, M.B.A., in New Orleans. With anxiety increasing, the college extended break for a week. 

     On March 16, one email ended all in-person instruction. Rogan remembers that a tidal wave hit online support. Marvel worried about the hands-on culinary students. The college scrambled to get computers to students and instructors in need. 

     Rogan said, “In parts of this county, we may think of ourselves as fairly affluent.” She continued, “From town to town, that’s not true for every individual in it. But it’s also not true that we all have the same Wi-Fi access or internet access in different parts of the county.” YCCC made Wi-Fi available in the parking lot. Rogan described it as heartbreaking to see students, but not be able to interact with them. 

     Rogan said that COVID changed everything. “We really wanted to acknowledge that not only instruction had changed, but everyone’s lives had changed. Students no longer could pay attention to school in the way they thought they could.” The college offered an optional grading process. No one received academic probation or dismissal. Grades were incomplete for months. Labs continued in the summer. 

COVID-19: Restrictions or Opportunities?

     For River Tree Arts in Kennebunk, Maine, a pivot to change strategy is creating growth.  When COVID closed its doors in March 2020, the small nonprofit relied on the pivot to adapt and grow. President Paula Gagnon said that agile plans led to innovation, flexibility and perseverance.

Masked ballerinas pose at the River Tree Arts Winter 2020 Dance Recital at The Atlantic Hall, Kennebunkport, Maine. COVID-19 style, performers danced to an audience of one guest each, Jan. 12, 2021. (Photo by River Tree Arts)

     Professional artist and educator Heather Lewis shares the same philosophy. Lewis teaches art classes at River Tree and a local community college. COVID’s impact, she said, “provided absolutely incredible expansion and growth for me. Intellectual expansion.”

     River Tee was already operating on a shoestring pre-COVID. Lockdown forced the center to decrease the hours of its two part-time employees. The organization also reduced non-essential costs and reached out to grant makers. 

     Board, faculty and staff made plans that could pivot to change with agility. COVID was uncertain, so the center planned for a quick pivot if necessary. Gagnon said, “It’s a very good idea. I see us continue to operate in ways we are now 

     To build trust and show appreciation, the Art at Home program developed. With a small grant, local artist Piper Castles designed children’s projects. Parents picked up supplies curbside, and their children attended virtual classes. Gagnon said, “It was engaging and free! They learned. It was perfect.”

     Before its fall re-opening, the organization worked to ensure safety for everyone. They cleaned and sanitized. But social distancing in small rooms was not possible without a decrease in class size. 

     Some instructors were comfortable with teaching in-person classes. Others donated instead. Plans moved forward for a safe reopening. A plexiglass wall now protects the reception area. Velour roping discourages roaming. A new micro-gallery hangs on freshly painted walls.