As 2020 comes to a close, the usual urge to reflect on the highlights of the last year and make resolutions for the next, seems harder than usual. The glimmers of hope and the unthawing of despair brought by the arrival of a COVID vaccine, can only partially heal the trauma of loss, sorrow, hardship and loneliness that so many have suffered in the last year.
Rather than focus on the pain and chaos of 2020, I want to reflect on some of the ways that we have adapted and modified our daily lives and express gratitude to those in our community who helped to make things better for all of us.
In no particular order, here are some changes that have been made that I hope will last and expand in the coming years.
- Outdoor education. Many schools have previously embraced the concept of outdoor education but the pandemic provided the strong impetus to further innovate and more broadly implement these programs. Congratulations to Fiddlehead School of Arts and Sciences, the New Gloucester Recreation Department, SAD 15 and other schools that developed, and on very short notice, expanded outdoor programs offering children the chance to learn and have fun in the outdoors during this stressful time.
- Online and outdoor exercise classes. Thanks to GNG Adult Education, the Pineland YMCA and others for creating online programming and adapting indoor and outdoor activities to accommodate and adhere to the safety precautions of COVID-19. As a regular member of the aquacise class at Pineland, I miss my morning swim class and the friends I made there. But I appreciate the staff of Pineland who personally called members to check-in and quickly pivoted to add outdoor, virtual and on-demand exercise classes. They also added kid friendly craft activities, book readings and other athletic practice tips for youth. Although it was tempting to cancel my membership when I could no longer go to the pool, I did not do so, in appreciation for their hard work in keeping classes going.
- Smaller class sizes and change in school start times. While we have all heard of the challenge of online and hybrid teaching, the pandemic also resulted in smaller in-person classes. Many of my teacher friends note the smaller class size has lessened the anxiety for many students resulting in reports of fewer behavior issues in the classroom. And for high school students, the later start time of school is a welcome change to the early morning classes that have challenged many students in the past. Thanks to the SAD 15 school board and teachers and staff for all your hard work in navigating and adjusting to these difficult times.
- Curbside pick-up and delivery of groceries and other goods. This service has certainly been a huge benefit to older adults, like myself, who prefer not to shop at 7 am and enjoy (or at least have figured out) the mechanics of shopping online. I found that Whole Foods will actually deliver to New Gloucester. I imagine for working families, the ability to order online and pick-up curbside or via delivery is a welcome convenience for their busy lives. Many thanks to Pineland Market, Thompson’s Orchard, Shaker Village, Hannaford, Village Store and other local stores who have made online and curbside shopping possible and for adhering to COVID mask and safety guidelines.
- Telehealth. Bravo to all health care workers in general! And to the many ways that health care and mental health providers have expanded and improved access to telehealth services to their patients. In March, the governor signed an executive order expanding access and affordability of telehealth services. For me, this reduced waiting room times, improved timeliness of appointments, and streamlined appointment registration and check-in.
- Photos. What a daily pleasure to see the beautiful and uplifting photos posted by the talented photographers in our town… Kevyn Fowler, Fred Brusseau, Myriam Babin, Peggy Becksvort, Tom Driscoll, Diantha Grant and others. They make me grateful to live in such a beautiful town with such amazing people.
- Zoom. How many of us had even heard of Zoom a year ago? And now it has become a word in the English language like Google, or You Tube. Weekly Zoom calls with my family has been a way to stay connected and learn what is happening in California, France, Texas and Vermont. It has transformed the way the town does business and made town Select board and other committee meetings more accessible and transparent. Town committee meetings to discuss the budget, the library and other matters have often been attended by 30 plus residents. Historically such meetings were attended by 8-12 people squeezed into the meeting house. Thanks to the town staff for arranging and managing the Zoom meetings. And many thanks to the Select Board for voting to post the Zoom links online in 2020 rather than requiring an email. Let’s hope this continues beyond the pandemic.
- Broadband. Many of the changes noted above rely on access to the internet and access to high speed broad band. This has highlighted the unevenness and inequity in access to the internet either by geography or by cost. Let’s hope that our leaders and legislators will continue to expand access to and reduce the cost of these services throughout our state and the country.
These are just a few of the ways our lives have changed in the last year. We all long for the day we can meet again in person for a cup of coffee, enjoy a concert, have friends to dinner. But in the meantime, I remain hopeful for the new year and remain grateful for living in this wonderful community.