Whether it’s using the time to refocus on old hobbies or learning how to adjust to what life throws at you, Michiganders learned a lot during COVID-19. Here are some of those lessons.
MICHIGAN—The COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy for anyone in Michigan. For frontline workers especially, the pandemic has brought forth challenges to everyday life, has changed work experiences, and has made life outside work more isolating.
But Michiganders have persevered. They’ve braved the storm and have continued to adjust, grinding through the toughest times to come out on top. Throughout the pandemic, The ‘Gander has spoken to several frontline workers about their experiences and the lessons they’ve learned from life during COVID.
Below are some of those lessons—which include everything from being thankful for assistance while unemployed to appreciating everyday things we take for granted, like technology.
How to be Thankful
Elizabeth Richardson lost her job at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She had worked at a non-profit organization that helped to facilitate youth foreign exchange, working with US students interested in studying abroad. But one day she was called into a meeting and told she no longer had a job.
She said she was able to survive the pandemic in part because of unemployment benefits offered by the state as well as the feds.
“I was incredibly thankful for the extra help,” she said. “I had no idea how long this additional federal unemployment would last, so I saved everything extra that I could.
Richardson continued to look for jobs, a task she described as mostly fruitless over the course of 2020 and early 2021. But eventually, she said, she was able to land on her feet and found a new job as a financial analyst for a disposable food and beverage packaging company.
Finding Your Inner Strength
“I’m ready to take this virus out,” Amiee Chosay, a mid-Michigan mother of two and grandmother of two, told The ‘Gander earlier this year.
Those are strong words for Chosay, who works at a boutique shop, but it’s exactly how she said she feels. Being a frontline worker during the pandemic—first as a bank employee before switching jobs—was stressful, and Chosay said she’d had enough.
“We knew nothing about this virus at first except you could have it and be giving it to your family without even knowing it,” she said. “I went three months without seeing my granddaughters, and when I finally could we were still scared I’d give it to them because I work in public.
“It was awful,” she continued. “But somehow, I made it through the pandemic without having COVID, which makes me one of the lucky ones.”
Now, Chosay is hopeful people will get the vaccine to make sure they keep themselves and others safe.
“I would mandate it if I could,” Chosay said.
Learning How to Adjust—On the Fly
Michael Garontakos, an employee at a Mid-Michigan Home Depot, said life during the pandemic slowed to a crawl—except at work. There, he said, things sped up in a hurry.
“We have had a massive influx of foot traffic at work, online ordering went through the roof, we have a lot more supply chain problems, getting products, backorders, etc., and every week or so it seemed like we were hiring new faces to help with the increased traffic and sales,” Garontakos told The ‘Gander. “The entire situation was very fluid and new things were happening daily.”
For Garontakos, the key was adjusting on the fly. Rules changed a lot during the beginning of the pandemic, he said.
One day, the store could sell patio furniture and paint. On another day, those areas of the store had to be taped off because they were told they couldn’t sell “nonessential goods” to avoid an influx of foot traffic.
Employees were on edge, never knowing what changes would be implemented next.
Garontakos said the pace of the store “was absolutely insane,” but he enjoyed it. Now, he’s hoping things can return to normal through the emergence of three safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.
“If getting the vaccine lessens the chance that myself or a loved one can get hospitalized and die over this, I cannot see a reason why anyone would not want to get it,” he said.
How to Work Remotely
One of the common ways Michgiganders adjusted during the pandemic? Learning how to work remotely. For Luke Kellogg, a 31-year-old Academic Success Coach at Lansing Community College, it’s all he has ever known in his current position.
Kellogg began his job during the pandemic and, despite it being new, was thrown right into things while working from home. The process took some adjusting, to say the least.
“While the shift to online services wasn’t entirely flawless, I think we were able to make it as smooth as possible and it really opened up new doors to being able to meet student needs,” Kellogg explained.
In time, Kellogg said he and her coworkers were back on campus for work. But that brought forth its own uneasy feeling.
“I started this position while remote so it almost felt like I had to re-learn how to do many aspects of my job,” Kellogg said. “In addition to that, there was also some uncertainty about safety protocols and what returning would look like. Luckily, Lansing Community College has done a pretty good job of making sure employees feel safe being back.”
Staying in Touch—From a Distance
Richard Jax said he has felt the effects of the pandemic when it comes to seeing and visiting family for an extended period of time. But technology came in clutch, he explained.
“I have had some times that it has been lonely,” he said. “But with being able to facetime (his parents), it hasn’t been an issue.”
Indeed, technology has made things a lot easier for Jax. He said he stays in touch with friends through online gaming, meaning even when he’s socially distanced from loved ones they never seem like they’re too far away.
“I like to play games online and talk to friends on there, so not being able to see them, speak to them in person isn’t a huge deal,” he said.
CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL STORY: Michigan Man Embraces Technology To Stay in Touch During Pandemic
Going the Extra Mile for Others
The pandemic has been filled with negativity, but some people have pushed that aside and have made the effort to go the extra mile for those relying on them.
Take Sherry Mills, a peer support specialist at Lifeways Community Mental Health in Jackson, for example. She works with people seeking services at Lifeways and said there were a lot of changes during the pandemic that required peer support specialists to adjust.
“A lot of in-person support groups and meetings were canceled or discontinued,” she told The ‘Gander. “It has been harder to help with resources for housing due to lack of housing available and less space in shelters because of social distancing.”
Mills going the extra mile for people at Lifeways is incredibly crucial. Taking care of your mental health has proven important during the pandemic, when many have felt isolated or stressed.
“It is very important to take care of your mental health,” she said, “And there is more need for mental health care during the pandemic because of isolation, stress, and worry of becoming infected, losing loved ones and jobs, and schools shutting down.”
BEFORE YOU GO: Frontline Worker Goes Extra Mile For Others’ Mental Health