Posts in Category: Human Interest

Broken – Introducing Julie

What happens to a person when day after day, there is no good news? What about when the bleakness of that news removes all hope. Or when each day begins and ends with countless uncontrollable fears? How long can a person remain whole?

In March of 2020, the people of the United States began to realize that a full-blown pandemic was underway. Life-changing measures were taken at work, school, and home. People began to work from home or were laid off, schools quickly went online, masks were donned, and groceries were washed. The news was terrible. People were dying in droves in large cities such as New York City and Detroit. No one completely understood how Covid-19 was transmitted or how to treat it.

Still, some people could not stay home to stay safe. Essential workers! We considered them heroes. They were working on the frontline every day, providing services that kept the rest of us fed, secure, and well. They risked much during uncertain times.

Julie was considered an essential worker. During the early part of the pandemic, she worked long hours with responsibilities that shifted daily, sometimes even hourly. She was doing well with the changes until she began having direct contact with persons infected with Covid-19.

Fear crept into her heart and mind, and as the days and weeks passed, it became difficult to think, work, or breathe. Julie was broken. She tried to shake it off, but the physical and mental became too much. With much trepidation, she requested and was granted medical leave from work.

When I met Julie, she had been off work for over a month. She had not left the house during that time, nor did she bother getting dressed in “normal” clothes. Leaving the house created too much anxiety, and getting dressed just felt too hard.

Julie and I spoke for four hours about her experience. Her fear and anxiety were palpable at the beginning of our visit. After that, though, as we talked, Julie began to relax. At one point, I asked her what she missed most. Julie, blessed with the voice of an angel, has always sung in choirs or for special events. She replied that she missed singing for people.

And, so, I asked her to sing. Really, she asked? Really, I said.

After composing herself, she began to sing. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me. Tears streamed from her eyes as she sang, and we both openly wept when she finished. However, the song and the act of singing relieved Julie’s angst at a deeper level, and we continued to talk deeply.

After a bit, Julie looked at me and said. I think I feel good enough to get dressed. Do you mind if I do that? But, of course, I did not care. Fifteen minutes later, Julie appeared wearing a dress, a small amount of makeup, and hair that had been brushed and straightened. She was stunning. The stress and worry that she had worn so profoundly when I arrived were gone. This new Julie was the Julie I have known all my life.

In a Hollywood movie, Julie would have been cured of her mental and physical un-ease at this point. Of course, Julie continued to struggle with her mental health issues for several more months. However, when she returned to work, it was with confidence that she could resume her duties fully.

The pandemic has affected each of us deeply. The consequences of isolation, illness, and fear will impact all the generations having experienced it. Some of us will be just fine, but others will wear the scars from wounds received from the Covid-19 pandemic for a lifetime.

Julie felt deep shame that she needed and required help to regain her mental health. Yet, somehow, she found the courage to ask for time off and counseling. Should you find yourself in a similar situation as Julie, I urge you to seek counsel. The world is full of helpers. Please let someone help you.


A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to complex topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader’s. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below.

Gail’s photography can be purchased from:

 Lakehousephoto.com

City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/

NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/

Or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2021© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. This material’s unauthorized use or duplication without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Introducing Shauna – Sanctuary

Safe.

What is the first thought or image that comes to mind when you think about the word safe?

Mine immediately travels back in time to a summer day in 1964. I was four years old, surrounded by many people I did not know, and I could not find my mother. The view in front and behind me was a sea of legs, below a vast assortment of unfamiliar shoes, and when I looked up, the faces of people I did not know.  Panic overwhelmed me, my body shook, and I sobbed uncontrollably. The crowd moved away a bit, and a large woman picked me up and held me in her arms. She told me everything would be ok and that we would find my mommy. I was not comforted and just screamed louder.

Of course, my mother was not far away and came immediately to rescue me. My mother was a practical woman and not prone to indulge or to tolerate theatrics. She wordlessly took me from the woman and put me down. Then she held my hand, and we walked together amongst the crowd for the longest time. I felt safe.

I was a lucky kid. I had two parents; one worked outside the home and the other inside. We had plenty to eat and needed nothing my folks could not provide. I walked freely from one friend’s house to another without concern for my wellbeing. Safety was seldom, if ever, a concern.

Maybe your childhood was similar. If so, imagine living in a home where there is not enough to eat, violence, or neglect due to drug or alcohol addiction, or because the parent(s) are at work trying to make enough money to survive. What if every time you stepped outside of your home, you had to be on the lookout for something terrible that might happen? Or that every day you had to pass by a place where someone committed a crime: A beating, a robbery, or even the murder of a friend? How would you feel; Scared, numb, hopeless, traumatized?

Take a moment to pause and think about the kids and families living under these conditions every day. Does it disturb you; If so, enough to do something about it?

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Safe is defined as to be protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.

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Part 1 – Pathfinders

Shauna Hunter has dedicated her life to doing “something about it.” She serves as the Executive Director of Pathfinders. Pathfinders is a violence prevention program provided for children and teens from Muskegon and Muskegon Heights. The organization is located within Temple United Methodist Church and primarily serves the African American community.

Recently Shauna and I had the opportunity to meet and talk about Pathfinders and how she sees the world as an African American woman. As I spoke to Shauna, it became apparent that she is a woman that walks her talk. She is a passionate advocate for those she represents. Her faith sustains her and gives her hope for healing and a brighter future for the community.

Shauna shared that the late ’90s were a particularly tumultuous time in parts of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights. Gun violence and drug trafficking increased significantly, and many young lives were lost to death or prison. Concerned community leaders held public meetings and learned that kids living within the troubled neighborhoods longed for a place where they could feel safe. As a result, Pathfinders was established.

As the organization grew, it became aware that the community’s problems and challenges extended beyond gun violence and drug abuse. Many live in poverty with only one parent or absent parents. Others experience violence in their homes and within their neighborhood. Some experience hunger daily. The kids are quite literally traumatized. For these kids, Pathfinders has become their extended family. The mission statement for Pathfinders is to Engage, Empower, and Motivate. They do so through a variety of programs, both in-house and through community outreach. The following are among the programs. Pathfinders offers.

  • Urban Storytelling – To improve literacy within the community, Pathfinders began Urban Storytelling. Books chosen have kids featured/illustrated that look like the kids listening. As a result, the participants can relate more to the characters, accept, remember, and embellish the story, and be prone to read something else on their own in the future.
  • Meals to reduce food scarcity issues – Meals are served in-house during the week and delivered on the weekends in connection with Hand To Hand / Temple United Methodist Church.
  • Counseling/Mental Health Services – Your Heart Matters is a non-verbal aid that allows kids to express their feelings. Each participant receives color-coded hearts that coincide with an emotion, such as, Sad, Depressed, or Urgent Need. Based upon the card, the staff can either assist the child or provide a referral for counseling at Healthwest. Additionally, the Summer Youth Counseling program is available through Hackley Community Care!
  • Life Skills – Cooking, Financial Literacy, and Mindfulness/Meditation are just a few Life Skills taught at Pathfinders.
  • Physical Activity – Basketball, Ping Pong, Indoor Soccer, Dodge Ball, Flag Football, Floor Hockey, and Pool are available to Pathfinders participants.
  • Games
  • Tutoring
  • Personal Hygiene Pantry (in connection with Temple United Methodist Church) – Hygiene items are costly and not affordable for folks living in poverty. The pantry provides a way for poor students to attend school with confidence.
  • Boots On The Ground – Local police departments and folks living in the neighborhood gather to get to know one another. Together they learn how to react to one another when they meet on the street. The ultimate goal is to reduce racial profiling and unnecessary violence between police officers and persons of interest.
  • A-MACK Program – Aniya Mack was a victim of domestic abuse and was subsequently murdered by her ex-boyfriend. The A-MACK program established in Aniya’s memory focuses on domestic violence awareness and prevention.
  • I Am The Village is a Pathfinders campaign that focuses on bringing the community together for one purpose, holding the community responsible for educating, empowering, and rehabilitating itself.

Services Provided to homes during Pandemic.

  • Delivered books, puzzles, and introduced online games and activities to keep kids engaged. And additional groceries such as microwave meals that the kids could prepare for themselves.

At Pathfinders, all are welcome. The intention is that every person that enters is safe. One of Shauna’s goals is to expose the participants to diversity, open discussions, and bond through their shared history despite their differences. Shauna and Pathfinders welcome LGBTQ+ teens. She explains that the coming out process for Black LGBT-Q+ teens can be incredibly difficult and, in some cases, dangerous. Mild harassment, bullying, and even death can occur, especially among transgender teens. Shauna wants her kids to know that they are all someone important and that they are not reduced to limits but that the sky is the limit.

Literacy is an issue and often cited as the key to resolving other problems within the community. Shauna points out that it is difficult for kids to learn in school because they are too distracted, just trying to survive circumstances most people never experience. Shauna and Pathfinders are working diligently to help resolve the challenges that serve as roadblocks to learning, literacy, and success.

Funding for Pathfinders is provided through grants from the United Way, Community Foundations, and Alcoa. However, it is not enough to cover all the expenses the organization incurs. Can you help? Follow the link provided to learn more about or make a donation to Pathfinders. https://www.pathfindersofmuskegon.org/.

Part 2 – Candid Conversation with Shauna

The year 2020 brought race, racism, White privilege, and police brutality within the United States to our attention in unprecedented ways. The video of the murder of George Floyd served to open the eyes and hearts of many. A lot of people began to examine and acknowledge their cultural bias and White privilege sincerely. Many purchased books on racism, churches formed study groups, and conversations of awareness and healing began. More people tuned into Podcasts related to the subject than ever before. And, White people joined in Black Lives Matter protests that occurred around the nation.

I am among the group of White people described above. Thus, when Shauna graciously agreed to speak with me, I was thrilled and honored. Shauna spoke candidly about what it is like to be Black in the United States.

Shauna shared many experiences that disturbed me, but the words that echo in my mind the most are that being Black in America is exhausting. How can the color of one’s skin cause exhaustion? As Shauna and I spoke, the answer quickly became clear. I don’t wake up thinking I am White or even become concerned by my Whiteness. I don’t worry about what clothes I wear to the store, or if my purse is too big, or if I might be stopped by the police when I drive my car. I have never been followed in a store or accused of shoplifting. No one has ever wondered if my baggy clothes are a cover for all the goods I plan to steal. Nor have I have ever been treated like a criminal solely based on the color of my skin. But Black and Brown people wake up every day, knowing that they will face these challenges and more.

Another thing Shauna told me was that she chose a non-ethnic name for her daughter intentionally. She did not want to limit her daughter’s chance of receiving a job interview or college admission based upon her name. Though a non-ethnic name would not guarantee her daughter would obtain a job or college entrance, it would likely keep the application from being discarded prematurely.

We also spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement. Shauna believes that God loves everyone and quotes Jesus’s command given in 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love one another.” She explains that all lives matter, but until all lives are treated the same, we must remind others that Black Lives Matter.

I asked Shauna if racism in the United States could be fixed. She believes that it can, but that there is no overnight solution. In the past, White people have denied that racism exists. However, seeing it is believing. Images like those caught on video of the George Floyd murder make racism and police brutality real.

Frequent conversations regarding cultural bias and racism will be necessary to undo messages from the past. Shauna says that the “old ways” are not that long ago. Many Black people living in this country today have great grandparents that were slaves. The civil rights movement, the right to vote, desegregation, and the abolition of Jim Crow laws have only occurred in the past 70 years.  

In Shauna’s case, her grandparents were born in the United States but did not have birth certificates. They fled the South after crosses were burned in their yard. Her grandparents could have shared bitterness, anger, and hate with Shauna. Instead, they taught her that despite the cruel treatment they had endured, that there are good people in the world.

In her lifetime, Shauna has witnessed countless government programs intended to resolve issues of racism, poverty, education, and more fail over and over. She feels that the people in power are not asking the right questions or listening to those that the programs are meant to serve.  In other words, someone or entity is making decisions about what is best for a community that they do not belong to or fully understand.  

At this point, Shauna reminded me of the story in the Bible of Nehemiah. Jerusalem was in shambles after an invasion by the Babylonians. Warriors destroyed the temple and most of the city, burned the gates of the wall surrounding Jerusalem, and left other stone wall sections in piles of rubble. When Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the King, learned of his ancestral home’s state, his heart was burdened. The King noticed Nehemiah’s despair, and upon learning what was troubling him, granted him safe passage and supplies to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem.

Nehemiah was wise and understood that the wall was not the only thing that was in disrepair. The people living in Jerusalem were also broken. They had witnessed their once vibrant community destroyed. Loved ones were killed during the invasion or sold into slavery, while others escaped and lived in exile for many years.

Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah surveyed the damage and petitioned the residents and religious leaders to reconstruct the wall. As a result, the people of Jerusalem worked together tirelessly to complete the 2-mile long wall repair in 52 days. During the nearly two month project, the community residents healed wounds from the past and became friends and neighbors.

Shauna believes, like Nehemiah, that community involvement is the key to healing and resolving issues. She states that we must meet as neighbors, get to know one another, and together, do the work that will make things better.

Shauna is the Executive Director of Pathfinders, but the job she is called to do is to be a Light. If you ever meet Shauna, you will immediately know that she does her job very well. Guided by her deep faith, Shauna spends her days planting the seeds of love, hope, and peace in the hearts of the people living within the community. She believes that with God’s help, the seeds she and others like her plant will take root in fertile ground, grow strong, and reach their greatest potential.

Thank you, Shauna, for what you do at Pathfinders, in the community, and in the world. You are indeed a bright and shining Light.

Suggested Video

Race and Racism – White Privilege and Privilege Explained By Justin Wilford

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GyXEMg03EI

Something Happened In Our Town By Donald Moses and Marianne Celano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whR_JIzknpo

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the project, A Time To Heal, is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

An American Hero – Introducing Justin Bloyd

What are you called to do today? Will you accept the call? Or will you refuse?

There are a million excuses to turn away from the voice within.

  • It makes no logical sense.
  • It will be too hard, maybe even impossible.
  • Who am I to think that I might be able to do that!
  • It’s not the right time.
  • What if I fail?
  • What will my friends and family think?
  • It would change my life.

Conversely, the list of reasons to embrace the desires of your soul is much shorter yet far more compelling.

  • It is my fate.
  • It is my destiny.
  • It is what I am meant to do.

Sleepless in Mentor is the story of one man that was brave enough to take the call. Meet Justin Bloyd.

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It was March 2020, and the United States was shutting down in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Like so many others, Justin Bloyd of RB Sigma was at home, out of work, bored, and binge-watching Netflix. Justin hoped that the virus would quickly pass and that life would resume as normal.

As fate would have it, Justin’s life was about to change in ways he had never imagined.  Justin began receiving calls from people he had worked with within the health care industry. All shared the same concern. Their regular suppliers could not provide enough PPE’s to keep their staff safe. Could Justin help locate supplies? Yes, of course, Justin replied, having no idea how that singular yes would lead to the formation of a medical supply company that employs over 70 people, manufactures masks, and purchases and distributes PPE’s worldwide.

Justin is a consultant that teaches the proven business principles of Lean and Six Sigma to manufacturing companies, health care organizations, and even teachers and students in the Ohio Public Schools. Both systems promote service excellence, efficiency, effective communication, safety, risk management, and much more. The learning process is hands-on and requires all participants to participate in data collection and analysis and implement new approaches based on the findings.

Justin had solid relationships with both the State of Ohio and several healthcare organizations before the pandemic. Additionally, they were aware that Justin had worked with many companies, from small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, to market new products. Justin’s understanding of supply chain sourcing was a critical factor in creating successful results for the companies he represented. Both the State of Ohio and the healthcare organizations within were betting on Justin’s past success to help them through their current crisis.

Initially, Justin was asked only to help locate products.  Shortly after that, however, it became clear that someone would also need to warehouse and distribute the supplies. Justin believed the task would be much more challenging to pull off but agreed to take on the role in light of the urgency of the situation. Purchase orders from the State of Ohio and other organizations began to pour in, giving Justin the working capital he needed to get his new business started.

Justin admits that the endeavor was incredibly stressful. Once people became aware of Justin’s new venture, the phone never quit ringing. Others were in desperate need of supplies as well. Justin was committed to helping everyone he could.

There was much to be done quickly. Justin worked around the clock, only stopping to rest on the floor under his desk briefly from time to time. Justin needed more sleep but was often too tired to drive home. The solution was to park his camper behind the building that is now RB Sigma’s home office.

Justin was able to locate and procure over three million PPE’s from China. That was the easy part. Merchandise was transported by truck or train from all corners of the nation to an airport in the Northeast. The timing of the receipt of goods was critical. Customs required that all the items be present within seven days of the arrival of the aircraft. Additionally, the Chinese government required a landing permit that was difficult to obtain. Once, in China, there was only a short window of time to load inventory and depart.

If one could go from point A to point B without hiccups, importing goods from China would be easy. But, the current political climate between the United States and China is tense. As a result, the government of China changes policies daily. Justin recalls that there were roadblocks and setbacks every step of the way. Occasionally Justin thought the task was too hard and felt like giving up. But, he had committed, and he would see it through.

Procuring PPE was just one of Justin’s tasks during the early part of the operation. He needed to locate a building, work with twenty contractors to gut and retrofit it for mask manufacturing, purchase mask-making equipment made in Michigan, find a warehouse to store merchandise and supplies, and hire 38 employees. Additionally, Justin met nearly daily with his attorney to set up his business and work with a web design firm to completely rework his website.

Almost one month after Justin agreed to help, the second-largest cargo plane in the world filled with PPE’s landed in Cleveland. Since then, RB Sigma has grown significantly. RB Sigma has over 70 employees, maintains an online and walk-in store, manufactures various masks, and supplies PPE’s to over 290 med centers and prison systems across the United States. They have also shipped health kits to employees returning to work in over thirty countries.

Justin ended reliance upon products made in China as quickly as possible. Justin has since purchased or manufactured all the PPE’s needed from companies within the United States, except for gloves. Gloves are currently only manufactured in China and South Korea.

Justin credits his team for making the venture successful. Justin hired people he could trust with proven track records within manufacturing, warehousing, management, marketing, and more. Team members include family members, a few long-time friends, and many business associates he has worked with throughout his career.

Justin is both motivated and inspired by family. He honors his grandfather, Robert Bloyd, by using his initials as depicted on the family cattle brand as the company logo. Justin’s grandfather served in WWII. Robert Bloyd’s job was to bring ammunition to the troops on the frontline in Iwo Jima and the Guadalcanal. Justin likens his role now to that of his grandfather’s. Though it is a different kind of war, Justin believes he is doing his part by bringing PPE’s to front line workers.

There are many words I could use to describe Justin Bloyd. Humble, generous, kind, a hard worker, a man of vision, a family man, a good friend, driven, and committed, are just a few. Justin’s word for himself, though, is lucky. Because of that, Justin believes it is essential to share his good fortune with others in need. Justin donated the workforce and transportation needed to deliver over 70,000 PPE’s to the Minneapolis Police and Fire Departments after their buildings were burned down by rioters reacting to the death of George Floyd. Additionally, he donated 400,000 masks to ensure every poll worker’s safety in the state of Ohio.

Justin Bloyd is an American hero. He was called to action during an unprecedented time in our history. He accepted the call and, as a result, delivered more than was asked or expected. No doubt, Justin’s contributions have saved countless people from contracting or dying from Covid-19.  Most people will never meet or know the man behind their mask, but if they did, I believe that, like me, they would not be able to find the words to express the depth of their gratitude. Thank you, Justin.

****

What are you called to do today?

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the project, A Time To Heal, is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Forsaken – Introducing Dody

Death & Dying During COVID

Hold my hand, she said, her eyes pleading with mine. Please, she repeated, hold my hand when I go. I do not want to die alone.

Nearly ten years ago, I kept my promise and held my mother’s hand tightly as she passed from this world into the next. Five hours later, I did the same for my father. Witnesses were present. A hospice nurse and a few friends and family showered my folks with love and compassion during their last hours. They were not alone.

Afterward, more friends and family arrived. They brought food, embraced me, and helped me to get to the next step. There was a funeral, and more people came. Ken, a childhood neighbor, led the service, weaving in humorous and heartfelt tales about my parents. There was a lot of laughter, some tears, and immeasurable love in the room. I was not alone.

Alone.

The word echoes in my mind as I write. I pause and feel its gravity. When my parents died, they and I were surrounded, enfolded, and lifted in love. And still, I felt alone.

Imagine the countless number of people who died alone in hospitals and long term care facilities this year due to safety precautions related to COVID-19. While healthcare workers have done their best to fill the gap, it is not the same. How many people were denied the ability to keep their promise to hold their beloveds’ hands as they left this world?

Consider the unbearable grief of the forsaken. They waited from a distance as their loved ones passed. And, afterward, they were unable to gather to support one another or attend funerals or memorials. Those left behind have suffered in isolation. They are, indeed, alone.

Dody, a hospice bereavement counselor, volunteered to share her thoughts and experience related to death, dying, and serving those left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dody first speaks about the five steps of grief, as defined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each stage of grief must be experienced for closure to occur. The steps are not static and can be experienced multiple times before acceptance occurs.

Dody points out that during the COVID-19, pandemic grief has been further complicated as both the dying and survivor experience feelings of abandonment. In Florida, where Dody resides, visitation to patients in hospitals and nursing homes has been severely restricted or disallowed since March.

Funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life are the first step toward healing. Dody explains these events are severely delayed or not happening. There are several reasons. Government restrictions currently disallow funeral homes from conducting services, and crematoriums have a large backlog. Additionally, family and friends’ are often unable to gather due to travel restrictions and quarantine protocols.

As a result, the survivor’s grief is greater than anything Dody has seen in all her years as a bereavement counselor. Never have the bereaved felt so isolated.

Dody believes her role as a bereavement counselor is to be a supportive presence for her clients. She helps the bereaved accept the reality of loss with tools designed to assess clients’ most urgent needs. Each client is encouraged to keep a journal. Additionally, Dody listens. Most of Dody’s counseling sessions are currently held online via Zoom.

Dody feels that it is an essential part of the healing process to maintain a bond with the deceased. She encourages anyone who has lost a loved one to continue to celebrate holiday traditions, make a dish or meal that your loved one enjoyed preparing, or anything else that might sustain the bond.

Dody’s beloved father died three years ago this month. Among Dody’s most cherished memories of her father is that he was always singing and dancing. Music is healing for Dody. Dancing in the Sky, by Dani and Lizzy, is a song that brings her comfort and keeps her father alive in her heart.

Thank you, Dody, for participating in A Time to Heal!

For your work with hospice, I applaud you. It cannot be easy, and I suspect there are days that the emotional burden becomes unbearable. Yet, you continue. The gift you give to those in your care is immeasurable. In this blog post, you have given voice to those grieving in isolation. I hope and pray that in some small way, they feel heard and lifted.

Follow the link to Listen to Dancing In Heaven By Dani and Lizzie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UR4T0av0o40

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 3, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Doctor My Eyes – Introducing Dr Susan

I met Susan (then Suzy) at YMCA Camp Pinewood in the summer of 1978. She was 16, and I was 17. We were both camp counselors, but she was far better at it than me. That’s because her love for and understanding of children was then and remains far superior to mine. It was not surprising, then, that Suzy chose to become a pediatrician.

When I started the project A Time To Heal, I wanted to talk with essential workers in the medical field to hear and share their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Susan and I had not seen each other or even spoken on the phone in forty years, she agreed without hesitation to contribute. The following is her story.

Susan had been following the news stories about a new virus in China and had heard the warnings of Chinese physician Dr. Li Wenliang early in 2020. Naturally, she was concerned and wondered if and when the new virus would impact the United States. However, Susan did not have to wait long.

The United States experienced its first death to Covid-19 by the end of February. By mid-March, New York City and Detroit were experiencing overflowing hospitals and many deaths. The virus was spreading across the nation quickly, and states were beginning to issue stay-at-home orders. Chaos erupted as businesses, schools, and families attempted to maneuver the new reality of the pandemic.

Susan’s medical practice was no exception.  Susan, her partners, and the staff worked quickly and well together to process new information as it became available, address supply issues, and figure out how to safely provide patient care. The early days at work were long and exhausting.

The fatigue Susan experienced at work did not end when she went home in the evenings. Once there, she worried about her family. How could Susan keep them safe? What if a family member became ill, what if she became ill, or what if she brought the virus home? What about her parents? What would happen if she had to quarantine and miss work? And how on Earth would that stay safe and connected as a family?

Worry was a constant at the beginning of the pandemic. The medical community knew little about how the virus was contracted and even less about treating it. The fear of getting the virus, dying from the virus, or losing a loved one to it was all-consuming.

At work, the staff trained diligently on updated protocols for scheduling in-person and online appointments and sanitation. Online patient visits were new to Susan’s office. Though awkward at first, online appointments worked well most of the time, adding the benefit of seeing the patient’s home life. The inside look did not change the diagnosis or treatment of ongoing patient issues, but it gave the providers a greater understanding of why treatment plans failed to be implemented.

PPE’s (Personal Protective Equipment) such as masks and gowns were in short supply, and it wasn’t easy to locate enough to protect staff. Additionally, the cost of the supplies tripled overnight. Susan’s team invested in washable PPE versus disposable. Since they were seeing patients outside through open windows in cars, they purchased all the Tyvek suits, plastic raincoats, and goggles they could attain from local hardware stores. The items could be washed and reused and kept the employees warm and dry during the cold and rainy season.

Susan admits that she grieves seeing patients “the old way.” Then, kids often gave her hugs, crawled up on her lap to have a chat, or even reached up to twirl or touch her curly hair. She also misses the unmasked faces of her patients. Not only because she wants to see their smiles, but because she relies upon facial expressions for cues related to how the patient is feeling.

I asked Susan a few questions at the end of our meeting. They are as follows.

  • Are the kids going to be ok? Will there be an ongoing impact upon the children due to the isolation created by social distancing, the need to wear masks, or the pandemic in general?
    • Some kids will bounce back with no problem. Others will struggle for quite some time. Right now, there is no school, so there are no school social workers. That leaves it up to us (the pediatricians) to try to help and or find help for those struggling.
    • Another concern is that many families depend upon the food programs that the schools administer. Currently, the school bus drivers are delivering meals during the week. However, other programs may be limited or not available. One example is the backpack program. Each week a child brings a backpack provided by the program and fills it with pantry items. Many families are dependent upon the program and will experience hardship if they do not receive supplemental food.
  • How long is this pandemic going to last?
    • The pandemic in 1918 lasted three years. That was with a country that was far less mobile than we are today. People today are far more mobile, and it makes it far more complicated to predict. We have also not received a clear directive from leadership in this country, so it caused a great deal of confusion. I hate to say it, but I believe it will be at least two years. First, we will need to develop a vaccine that works, but that takes time. There has never been a vaccine for a novel coronavirus, and who knows how long it will take to develop one, if ever. Even flu vaccines that roll out every year take nine months to create and deliver.
  • How do we get through this?
    • We will have to learn how to move through it together safely. That includes social distancing and properly wearing masks.
  • Have there been any positives to the pandemic?
    • At least for me, it brought our group practice closer than we have ever been. And, it has brought my family, including my folks, closer together.

More than a year has passed since the interview with Susan. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues despite the development and rollout of a vaccination program. Though we know how people contract the virus and how to treat it, it persists. Additionally, the skepticism, distrust, misinformation, and conflicting scientific opinions that began during the early part of the pandemic have not subsided. Let us hope that Susan is correct and that we will start to see relief from the pandemic in the coming year.

Thank you, Susan, for taking the time to share your journey. I am forever grateful.


Note: Dr. Li Wenliang, mentioned earlier in this piece, alerted the world to the possibility of a global pandemic. The Chinese government was not pleased with his warning and forced him to recant his statement. Soon after, Dr. Wenliang contracted the disease and died.


A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to complex topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader’s. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below.

Gail’s photography can be purchased from:

 Lakehousephoto.com

City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/

NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/

Or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2021© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. This material’s unauthorized use or duplication without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Free To Be Me – Introducing JT

JT arrives at school early to plan for the day that lies ahead. Soon his classroom will fill with the chatter, laughter, and mischief accompanying any group of 3rd graders. In the quiet before the storm, JT takes a moment to ponder and reflect. JT loves teaching, his students, the camaraderie he shares with his fellow teachers, and being a part of the community. JT’s heart is full! He is at home.

But for most of JT’s career, he has known that one rumor or complaint could lead to his prompt dismissal.  That is, until the summer of 2020. On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Supreme Court released JT and all members of the LGBTQ+ community from a prison of silence, fear, and secrecy.

JT always knew he was different. But how? He wasn’t sure, but he began suppressing “it” when he was a very young boy. During 5th grade, JT began to understand what “it” was when he noticed boys in a new way. He was shaken and a bit confused. Though he could not wholly define “it,” he knew that it was not acceptable.  He vowed to himself to work hard to quash the feelings as they surfaced.

JT, fueled by denial, successfully avoided his sexuality for most of his life. When JT was in high school, and unwanted thoughts would enter his mind, he would tell himself, “that can’t be me; I am an athlete.” JT was not just an athlete but accomplished enough to be offered scholarships to several well-known colleges. JT turned down all of the offers and entered Spring Arbor University, a private evangelical Christian college. Looking back, he understands that he did so to avoid his sexuality.

 Ironically, it was when JT was in college that he had his first experience with another man. Both were surprised and confused by the experience and made many excuses to explain away the incident.

Soon after college, JT met and married his wife of five years. JT states that he did feel love for her and that he thought marrying his wife was the right thing to do. JT believes that marriage’s commitment is not to be taken lightly, and he put all of his efforts into making it successful. But the couple faced many challenges.

JT and his wife desperately wanted a baby but could not conceive. After years of trying, they agreed to adopt. During the adoption process, it became clear that they had grown apart and that the marriage was not viable. The couple divorced, and JT was awarded full custody of his beloved daughter Natalie.

Though his marriage was over, JT had a new lease on life. JT was a dad! His love for Natalie made him take a long hard look in the mirror. Who was he, and what did he have to offer his child. JT realized that if he wanted Natalie to live in a world where she could express her truth, it was time to embrace his own.  JT, at 29, finally fully accepted his sexuality. He had hidden, denied, and suppressed who he was all of his life, and he was tired. JT could no longer keep up the façade.

JT began to live his life as an openly gay man in his community. He knew that in doing so that there would be a risk that he could lose his job should an angry parent complain. None-the-less, JT determined that there was no turning back and continued to teach in the same manner he had in the past: Professionally and with no discussion of his sexuality.

JT’s commitment to live his truth was tested in the fall of 2019. One of his students came to him and shared that there was a rumor going around about JT being gay. JT kept a calm demeanor and told the student that rumors are what they are and that it was his job not to spread them. JT was shaken. He could lose his career and the ability to provide for his daughter.

JT quickly made an appointment to speak to the principal of the school. During the meeting, JT shared that a rumor was going around that he was gay, that it was true, and that he feared losing his job. The principal was kind. She reminded him that she was the one that had asked him to apply at the school. She had suspected that he was gay when she hired him but that she had hired him based on his merit and the difference he makes in the classroom. She further explained that she had not hired a gay or straight man. She had hired a male third-grade teacher with a stellar work record and had no plans to get rid of him.

JT was relieved to have the principal’s support but knew that it was not a guarantee that his job would always be secure. JT’s concerns were short-lived when the Supreme Court unexpectedly decided that Title VII provided employment protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

When JT recalled the day the Supreme Court’s made its ruling, he was overcome with emotion. Tears sprang from his eyes, and he was unable to speak. After a moment, JT collected himself, swept away his tears, and triumphantly declared: “I am finally free to be me. As a teacher, I am always on the frontline. Everywhere I go, someone recognizes me. There are no words to describe the sense of relief that I feel. Now even if a person disagrees with my lifestyle, they cannot do anything about it. I am safe.”

JT is just one voice within the LGBTQ+ community. Over nine million people living in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Imagine the collective sigh of relief that nine million people experienced on June 15, 2020. Consider the gravity of this monumental decision. In a single day, nine million people let go of their fear of discrimination in the workplace.  And, nine million people, like JT, realized that they too were free to be themselves.

Thank you, JT, for sharing your story. You make a difference! Your love and light shine brightly in the classroom, as a father, a friend, and in your family. And, now, for me and those that have read this post.

I am grateful.

————————————————-

Authors Note:

Despite the Supreme Court Ruling related to employment discrimination, it is still legal in 25 states for landlords to refuse to rent to members of the LBGTQ+ community. Additionally, in 35 states, a banker can legally deny a loan based upon the applicant’s sexual orientation.


A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit was on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, during September and October 2020.  http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2021© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Emergency – Introducing Cindy

Cindy slowly walked down the short path from her car to a shaded picnic table in the park where we agreed to meet. Though I had never met her, immediately I knew that she was my interviewee. Everything about Cindy’s gait suggested that she was tired. Understandably so! Cindy was recovering from Covid-19.

Cindy is a respiratory therapist that works at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia, Michigan. The 302-bed hospital was one of the hardest hit in the Detroit area at the beginning of the pandemic. Patients having Covid -19 began to trickle into the hospital in early March.

By Mid-March, there was a deluge of new patients daily. Cindy says that nothing could have prepared them for what was to come. The patient population doubled overnight, and the hospital, now running in crisis mode, considered closing its maternity ward to add more beds for people that required respirators.

Initially, the result of Covid-19 tests could take up to two weeks to return. As a result, Emergency doctors began to assume that each new patient had the virus, though each presented very different symptoms. Complicating matters was that no one fully understood how to treat Covid patients. However, they began to notice that the patients that did respond well to treatment had one or more co-morbidities. Co-morbidities include obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, or having any other immuno-compromised illness.

Patients that required respirators exceeded what St. Mary Mercy Hospital had on hand. Unfortunately, new respirators were not available for purchase, but emergency service providers donated theirs to help the hospital through its crisis period. To put the increased need into context, Cindy stated that there would be a need for 5 respirators at one time on a typical day. A heavy day could require 10. But a Covid day, at the worst, required  25 respirators was in constant use.

Many patients went into renal failure and required CRT (continuous renal replacement therapy). Ideally, treatment is given 24/7  until symptoms dissipate. Unfortunately, however, the hospital had far more patients that required CRT than it could provide. Unfortunately, though, with only two dialysis machines, it was impossible to keep up with demand. Nevertheless, the hospital did the best it could to provide treatment. For example, instead of treating two patients 24 hours each, four patients were given treatment, 12-hours on and 12-hours off. Daily, doctors made gut-wrenching decisions regarding which patients would receive available therapies based upon their likelihood to survive.  

PPE’s were in short supply. The hospital quickly ran out of disposable gowns and began using reusable ones. In addition, masks, typically changed after each patient, were occasionally reused. Despite this, Cindy never felt unsafe.

Cindy said that the onslaught of patients, not knowing how to treat patients, and the sheer number of deaths were stressful. Everyone picked up extra hours and did what they could to provide patient care. Death is a part of Cindy’s job, and in some ways, she has grown comfortable knowing that it is the end time for a person. However, the reality of death hit Cindy hard as they lost 13 Sisters from the Convent House next door to the hospital. The sisters were ever-present as volunteers. Cindy saw the nuns in the cafeteria every morning as they drank coffee and watched the news or a baseball game. The loss of the Sisters broke her heart.

Cindy, herself contracted Covid-19. Not as she administered patient care, but when she took a break. She and four other employees crowded into a cramped breakroom. She doesn’t have a reason why, but they let their guard down. Perhaps from fatigue or denial, but each person in the room pulled their mask down. They chatted for less than fifteen minutes and returned to work. The next day it was learned that one of the staff members that had been in the break room had not been feeling 100% that day but came to work anyway. The following day she tested positive for Covid-19. As it turns out, everyone in the room ended up with the virus.

Cindy considers her case of Covid-19 mild compared to others. Unfortunately, though, during the second week, she experienced extreme shortness of breath and fatigue. Cindy became ill on May 8th and returned to work three weeks later. Two months later, Cindy reported that she still experienced shortness of breath and fatigue at our interview.

I asked Cindy how we would get through the pandemic. Cindy is a realist that softens her opinions with humor. She said first that we need to continue to social distance and wear masks. Then, Cindy predicted that a vaccine would be created, that it would be done too quickly, rolled out poorly, and that a large percentage of the population would not be willing to be vaccinated. She even predicted that the vaccine would likely fail and that its failure would create more angst amongst people already skeptical about all things Covid-19.

Thank you, Cindy, for your participation in A Time To Heal

A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to complex topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader’s. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below.

Gail’s photography can be purchased from:

 Lakehousephoto.com

City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/

NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/

Or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2021© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. This material’s unauthorized use or duplication without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Justice For All – Introducing Milinda

And Justice For All – Introducing Milinda Ysasi

Politician! What thoughts come to mind when the word is mentioned? In today’s divisive world, it can be difficult to conjure a positive image of a person that holds a public office. In fact, we often think of them as crooked, immoral, and instigators of dissension. How could we not! The media reports every conflict or perceived misconduct, true or not, a millisecond after an offense has occurred.

So, are there good politicians? Absolutely!

Milinda Ysasi, Grand Rapids City Commissioner, works for the people of the community with integrity and courage.  “Justice For All” is not a time-worn pledge for Milinda but an integral part of who she is and what drives her.  Milinda is a politician with a servant’s heart.

Milinda is a lifelong resident of Grand Rapids.  She is a Mexican American raised by parents that worked for the Grand Rapids public schools. She feels that she was able to experience the city in the very best way. Milinda had access to opportunities including employment, education, and the ability to buy her first home. However, she became aware early that not all people, past or present, had access to the same opportunities. Inequality bore a burden upon her heart and helped shape her desire to create a more just community.

After receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in business from Grand Valley State University, Milinda began working for Cascade Engineering in the Human Resources Department. It was at Cascade Engineering that Milinda became keenly aware of the disparities that exist in Grand Rapids and that an employer can become a part of the solution.  

The management team at Cascade Engineering believes that it can be a force for good. As a part of their mission, the corporation recognizes that disparities exist and that they have the opportunity and duty to help remove the barriers that keep people from accepting employment.  Working closely with potential employees, the folks at Cascade Engineering identify and remove obstacles. Child care, transportation, criminal backgrounds, lack of skills, or even meeting wardrobe requirements are common hurdles employees face. The company considers employment a form of justice.

Milinda’s experience at Cascade Engineering set the tone for her career. Not only did it increase her awareness of the inequity that exists in Grand Rapids, but gave her tools for identifying issues and finding corrective solutions by working side by side with the people closest to the pain. She learned to ask tough questions boldly and then seek resolutions.

Milinda has had a strong presence in the community.  Her track record includes numerous non-profits, community organizations, and countless awards for her service. She is the co-founder of the Latina Network of West Michigan, lead The Source a non-profit organization barriers to employment, and is currently the CEO of GROW, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women.  

Milinda’s decision to run for City Commissioner, a non-partisan position, felt natural. Buoyed by the knowledge that the Mayor of Grand Rapids and other community leaders were involved in a racial equity journey, she decided the time was right to run for office. Milinda’s campaign focused on economic development, that the resultant growth from jobs and prosperity reach all the neighbors within the community, to reduce housing, education, and food disparities, and to reduce gun violence.

Milinda completed her Executive MBA from Michigan State University late in 2019 and began her new venture as City Commissioner on January 1, 2020. Milinda looked forward to working collaboratively with others to help make Grand Rapids a better place to work and live. However, the events of 2020 quickly changed the scope of what the community needed from her.

The Covid-19 Pandemic began, and instead of bringing new opportunities, businesses closed, people lost their jobs, and Grand Rapids, as well as the rest of the nation, entered an economic recession. Schools closed their doors, and online learning began, causing many parents to choose between their job or their child’s education.

Then, the murder of George Floyd occurred, bringing the disease of systemic racism to the forefront. In response, Black Lives Matter Rallies and other social justice protests formed across the nation. Most of the events were peaceful, but in some instances, violence erupted. Grand Rapids incurred only one night of rioting, though the impact upon the community was devastating.

The George Floyd murder also exposed how people experience the police. While many say the police make me feel safe, another segment of the population, especially our Black and Brown brothers and sisters, say the police do not make me feel safe. Never has the divide been clearer. Milinda is focused on the work of violence prevention in our community. She wants to look at the systemic reasons violence occurs. 

There are other ongoing critical matters for the leaders of the City of Grand Rapids to address. Milinda explained that Grand Rapids is two things. Prosperous, and yet some people do not know where they will lay their heads at night. Over the next five years, 9000 housing units, owner-occupied and rental, are needed to reach housing stability. In the meantime, the stark reality is that 1 in 8 Black families in Kent County experience homelessness, while only 1 in 168 White families experience homelessness. Additionally, more Black and Latino families are overburdened by their housing costs, meaning a higher percentage of their income goes into rent than their White counterparts. The statistics demonstrate that racialized outcomes exist within Grand Rapids.

Another disturbing statistic is that Black and Brown people have a higher incidence of traffic stops, citations, and arrests for misdemeanors than White community members. When we understand that majority of the population in Grand Rapids is White, this should cause us concern. Milinda does not place the blame solely upon police officers. She believes there is much work to be done within the police department, community, and public schools. She suggests that education, awareness, and non-violence programs as a part of the solution.

In 2020 there 38 homicides occurred in Grand Rapids, most with guns. The majority of the cases were related to Domestic violence, gang rivalries, and drug-related activities. Milinda considers gun violence a public health issue that has not been effectively addressed. She applauds organizations such as The Safe Taskforce of Grand Rapids for taking an active role in prevention measures. The group targets residents ages 15 to 24 and address gun violence, pro-social opportunities, and mental health issues.

Milinda has a big job and less than three years to create effective change. Yet, she chooses to focus on one issue at a time, one day at a time. Milinda is an inspiration. Her passion for creating a more just Grand Rapids began long before becoming a City Commissioner and will last long beyond the end of her term. Working for social justice is not what she does but who she is.

At the end of my interview with Milinda, I asked; How would you like to be remembered? She responded by sharing the Maya Angelou quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” And, then she said, I want to be known as the person that did the best she could, and when she knew better, she did better. No doubt, Milinda will only get better.

Thank you, Milinda, for your service to all the people of Grand Rapids.


A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the project, A Time To Heal, is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2021© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Witness – Introducing Jill

COVID-19! Just say or see the word, and an avalanche of thoughts, images, and emotions come to mind. It has changed the way we do and think about almost everything. Yet, most of us have not experienced the virus first hand. It makes it difficult to understand why such drastic measures have been taken to prevent its spread. More than 6,000,000 people in the United States have had coronavirus. Fewer than half have fully recovered, and 192,000 people have died. Despite the numbers, some question whether it is a hoax, a liberal plot, or a media event.

Jill is a survivor of COVID-19 and has witnessed the reality of the virus both personally and professionally. Jill is the Executive Director of Pioneer Resources, Inc., in Muskegon, Michigan. The organization provides a multitude of services, including low-cost housing to Seniors and people with disabilities.

On March 22, 2020, Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a shelter in place order for the State of Michigan. Chaos erupted. Panic buying at grocery stores left shelves empty as people prepared for the unknown. Non-essential employees were furloughed or began to work from home. Students shifted quickly to online learning. And, organizations like Pioneer Resources were trying to determine how to move forward safely.

Jill and the management team at Pioneer Resources quickly learned and responded as new information regarding COVID-19 became available. Protecting staff and residents became their highest priority. PPE’s were in short supply and difficult to obtain. Jill worked quickly to locate new sources that could meet supply needs. Luke Aurner, Regional Healthcare Coalition Coordinator of the Muskegon Health Department, and a few other organizations around the state that Jill is in membership with coordinated and provided the necessary PPE so that the staff of Pioneer Resources could continue to provide services and remain safe.

Despite their best efforts, beginning in early April, the housing units were hit hard with the virus. Both residents and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Symptoms ran the gamut from mild to severe. One resident was in the hospital in rehab for over two months, and unfortunately, the virus even took lives.

During the early stages of the pandemic, the protocol was to separate those that displayed symptoms from the general population. Sadly, by the time an individual’s symptoms appeared, the virus had already spread to others.

During the same time, a resident attempted to get tested due to a high fever but was denied testing and sent home. Under a recent order of The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, anyone living in a congregate setting was to be prioritized for testing. However, the order escaped the notice of the testing center. Policies were changing quickly, and it was difficult for healthcare providers to keep up with the onslaught of new information. A shortage of COVID-19 test kits in Muskegon County compounded the issue and made it impossible to provide tests to everyone that wanted or needed one.

The following day the resident’s fever had worsened. There was no question that the resident needed to be tested and treated for his illness. However, Jill feared that the testing site would turn the resident away for a second time. Jill contacted one of the hospital directors to voice her concerns and provide him with the information related to the new policy. Jill’s advocacy opened the door to testing not only for the Pioneer Resources resident but for all others living in a congregate setting that utilized the testing site.

On April 11, 2020, dressed in full PPE except for goggles, Jill accompanied the resident to the hospital to ensure that testing was completed. He was tested and, as suspected, he was positive for COVID-19. On April 17, 2020, pale, coughing, and barely audible, Jill read the scripture from her devotional live on Facebook as she had done so many other mornings. After reading the verse, she briefly shared that she had tested positive for the virus. Then, despite her weakened state, she turned her focus back to God and completed reading her devotional.

Jill’s faith sustains her, and she feels guided by God’s presence in every moment. She thinks that there is a reason for all things that happen to us—in her case, even getting COVID-19.

Jill describes COVID as a nasty, nasty virus and that she would not wish it upon her worst enemy. It felt unending and was worse than pneumonia or bronchitis. Jill’s fever lasted ten days, and she describes the chills that accompanied it as tooth chattering. Her cough was painful, and her constant companion. Jill did not require hospitalization but monitored her oxygen and used an inhaler to decrease coughing and increase breathing. After two weeks, she experienced a depression that left her crying and wondering if it would ever end. At three weeks, Jill was able to leave the house but still suffered from a cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Months later, the symptoms persist.

Jill worked from home throughout her illness. She felt as the leader of an agency in crisis, she felt as though it was the right thing to do. Working helped her to focus on matters outside her own suffering.

Jill’s husband also contracted the illness. Jill often feels guilty for unwittingly bringing the virus home. He suffered as much as she did with the added strain of having difficulty getting clearance to return to work. But as Jill looks back, she believes she would have done everything the same way. Serving God and her community is who Jill is, not what she does. Turning away is not an option.

Some of the benefits she has seen as a result of the pandemic include people gardening, families experiencing quality time together, and learning that we can work effectively remotely. Jill notes that we are learning to connect in new and old ways. In Jill’s case, friends and neighbors did what they could to help her and her husband during their illness. Daily, people brought groceries, meals, and cards.

As an agency, she feels that the pandemic forced them to update and create better systems. Improvements include everything from enhanced digital records to a concrete and realistic emergency protocol that will benefit all those that work for and utilize services provided by Pioneer Resources. Lastly, it made her increasingly aware and grateful for a fantastic management team.

Jill does not believe that herd immunity is the answer. Jill worries about the children and grandparents. She encourages everyone to be cautious and stay safe until we can begin immunization. What that looks like for individuals and families might be different. It might be staying home and not wearing a mask. Or, it could be being out in public while wearing a mask. She admits, masks are not comfortable, but that we will adjust. She compares it to seatbelts and other safety devices. We don’t like the change, but we adjust.

Jill, it is with sincere thanks that I close this post. Your passion for serving those in need is nothing less than inspirational. Even if you never spoke of God or Jesus, your faith is transparent in the way you conduct your life. Your willingness to share your COVID-19 journey places a real person behind the illness. Hopefully, people will go forward with greater awareness, compassion, and empathy for others.

More information about Pioneer Resources

Pioneer Resources provides a blend of services to seniors and people with disabilities based upon need. Services include housing that ranges from independent living to 24-hour care, job training, and placement, a camp that serves both day and overnight guests, and an ABA program for children diagnosed with autism. They also provide senior activities and teach general living skills.

Pioneer Resources has served Muskegon County for over 65 years. Last year 3500 people received assistance and over one million miles of transportation given. Most of the funding used to provide services comes from Medicaid. However, they offer far more than medical services to the community. Like so many helping organizations, they have lost much funding this year. Please consider a donation today.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/pioneer-resources?pc=fb_co_campmgmt_w&rcid=r01-158522512145-00c99b7c2e0e45ba&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=p_lico%2Bshare-sheet&fbclid=IwAR3ZgiBv7YkFYvb6RLhdC-UODHPRcJxQPxW1tonpKue2ZGSItid9k8fVUaM

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 2, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Purchase Gail’s photography a Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Illusions – Introducing Kwame

Remember the summer of 2020. It seemed everything was amiss. The world was shutting down due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, The murder of George Floyd had occurred, and protesters from all walks of life gathered in mourning and cried for justice. In some cities, violence erupted, windows smashed, fires set, looting occurred, and people died. Politically, the United States was ramping up for the presidential election, and the process could not have been uglier. Friendships ended, and families divided as the lines between who’s ideas were right versus wrong became more important than relationships with one another. Even the Earth seemed angry as wildfires in the West claimed countless acres of wildlife habitat, the flora and fauna that resided there, and the lives of nearly 50 people.

The summer of 2020 was when I met Kwame Kamu to speak about his life experience as an African American man, racism, and Black Lives Matter. It was one of the most peaceful, thought-provoking conversations I had all year, to my surprise and delight. I expected an angry man filled with outrage demanding immediate action to make amends for all the wrongs that have occurred. Instead, I found a philosopher-poet with a gentle voice and heart. It is not to say that Kwame does not feel or experience anger, but the way he chooses to process and articulate it is thoughtful and nonthreatening.

Another curious thing occurred as the conversation between Kwame and I unfolded. We spoke like two old friends, freely and easily for nearly two hours. Yet, instead of the interview I planned, we weaved together our personal experiences related to Jesus, Christianity, and our mutual passion for self-expression through our art. Though we did talk about racism and Black Lives Matter, it seemed secondary to faith and hope.

Kwame grew up in Los Angeles, California. He and his family were heavily involved in a Black Evangelical Church in the neighborhood. His faith was strong, then and now, but it has evolved heavily. Kwame describes his former self as an egotistical evangelical Christian concerned with living the “right way.” Unfortunately, that left very little room for those that believed differently and created a space where it was easy to judge others. A case in point is that he felt sorry for his gay brothers and sisters and believed they would never be allowed in the kingdom of heaven.

Kwame’s rigid Christian beliefs began to disintegrate one day as he rode in the car with his father. Kwame’s father, a rugged individualist determined to live life his way, challenged Kwame. He said, Kwame, you know Jesus was black, right? Kwame had seen the pictures. Not only did fourteen-year-old Kwame know what Jesus looked like, but he was also solid in his understanding of the gospel. So, he said, no, dad, I did not know Jesus was black. Where would you get such an idea? His father, not taken aback by his son’s confidence, explained that the people living in the Mediterranean 2000 years ago were not White. Suddenly it made sense to Kwame that his image of a light-skinned fine-featured Jesus was incorrect. But what difference does it make if he is black or white? Kwame asked his dad. His father’s response gave Kwame pause and propelled him into a full-fledged deconstruction and reconstruction of faith. His father said, “If it didn’t make a difference, they would not have changed it.”

Kwame feels that most folks want Christianity to be easy but that the 21st Century Christian must delve more deeply into what it means to be a Christian. For example, is the gratification of being right more important than being fair or just? Kwame encourages us to see Jesus alive in each other. In doing so, we would see one another in a different light. The illusion of separateness would fall away, and we would find that we are far more similar than we acknowledge. As a result, we would become more compassionate, understanding, and less judgmental.

Kwame firmly believes that everything is as it should be and exactly where we start from to move forward. These days Kwame experiences a more profound sense of contentment around the difficulties we have getting along. He understands that every individual has their own lens with which they view life. Considering that over 7 billion people live on the planet, the idea of embracing one another though we may live differently is unfathomable. However, Kwame has hope that one day we can achieve a more just world.  

Though we are living during a turbulent time, Kwame sees it as a period of growth. His view is that Black culture is bringing the gift of humanity to the rest of the world by teaching us to get along. For example, the murder of George Floyd created greater awareness of disparities that Black people experience. Since then, Kwame witnessed more white people becoming enraged, getting involved, questioning, and helping to change unjust systems.

It is a start, but difficult conversations about complex and sensitive topics must continue to move forward. White supremacy, white privilege, Black Lives Matter, and defunding the police trigger deeply emotional responses from nearly everyone involved. Kwame uses defunding the police as an example to make his point. He compared the defunding of education and defunding of the police and how differently people reacted. Kwame stated that no one misunderstands that defunding education means reducing revenues, consolidating resources, and finding less expensive solutions to preserve education. But that defunding the police is wholly misunderstood though the principles are very similar.

As for white supremacy culture, Kwame sees it as a way of making oneself better or more important than someone else. He also feels that there is a lot of fear related to sharing resources. In part, he blames the way that history has been recorded and taught in public schools. There is just so much of our history that has been left out or erased, especially related to slavery, African Americans, and Native cultures.

When I asked Kwame about the Black Live Matter movement, he laughed and quickly rattled off several examples of memes he had seen on Facebook demonstrating the difference between All Lives Matter versus Black Lives Matter. However, the image that stuck most for me was a distressed person calling the fire department. Please help, the panicked caller shouts into the phone. My house is on fire, please come quickly. The operator calmly states, I am sorry, sir, but all houses matter. Her words are accompanied by an image of firefighters hosing down homes that are not o fire. His point is that we cannot honestly say that All Lives Matter until all lives are valued the same. Black Lives Matter is seeking justice for all, a concept that anyone that has ever heard the pledge of allegiance understands at least conceptually.

Kwame shares his final thoughts with grace and optimism. We’ve hit turbulence, and the ship is shaky. But we can thoughtfully redirect ourselves and come out of the other side of this crisis better. We need to stay grounded and be on each other’s side. He refers to another great philosopher, Woody Guthrie, and reminds us that, This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land. This Land was meant for you and me.

Thank you, Kwame.

Side note:

Kwame is a musician. You can learn more about Kwame Kamau James and Soulstice Wind at Kwame@Kwamekamau.com.

Also, check out the Facebook Group: What’s Mine to Do to join the conversation for racial reconciliation.


A To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the project, A Time To Heal, is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2021© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

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