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Sense of togetherness as H-F families, businesses work through limits

 “How are you doing?”

This common question has taken on a completely new context since much of our world shut down due to concerns over COVID-19.

Answers now carry a clause, a disclaimer covering the worry, isolation and change we all face. How are we doing? “Pretty good, considering …”

Residents and business owners in Homewood and Flossmoor march forward into the uncertainty of the next several weeks.

Kids at home

Homewood resident Tabitha Stine said she’s easing into a new normal, at home with her husband, Chris, and their three children — second-grader Logan, who attends Willow School, and eighth-grade twins Madysen and Kaiden, students at James Hart School.

Lunch from Lassen’s Tap interrupted Madysen, Logan and Kaiden Stine’s viewing of the 2011 World Series featuring their favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals. (Provided photo)

“It feels like a long weekend so far,” Stine said. “Once you start realizing this is the beginning of so many weeks, you can’t even think about it. It seems insurmountable.”

Stine faces the prospect of finding a month’s worth of enrichment activities. The children normally stay busy playing sports, which have been canceled, and academics, which have been interrupted.

“We have all this time on our hands and there’s nothing to do. They’re having a bit of a culture shock,” Stine said. “They have some homework but it’s not the same level as traditional instruction.”

Online instruction launched this week for all the kids, and Kaiden has been virtually attending his H-F High School geometry class.

The Wilson-Ahlstrom family gets some play time in during
the pandemic. (Provided photo)

In Flossmoor, Alicia Wilson-Ahlstrom is working to maintain a challenging homeschool curriculum for her three children with husband, Aaron. She normally runs an active program for the kids, Malcolm, 14, Langston, 12, and Mayana, 7, that takes them out into the community. 

“There’s a joke about homeschoolers that we’re not at home that often,” Wilson-Ahlstrom said. “We utilize the community. We get together to do things that might happen in school, things like science labs and plays.”

Cooperative homeschool groups canceled their meetings. The children can’t attend libraries or museums that normally enrich their education. The 2020 Science Olympiad for Malcolm and Langston? Canceled. The art program at the Irwin Center? Shuttered.

“My kids had something (up to) four days per week. All of that has been shut down,” Wilson-Ahlstrom said.

To their advantage, Wilson-Ahlstrom is a youth development specialist and her husband is trained in education. She is confident in engaging the children with projects and games, which she often posts on Facebook. 

“We’ve been flexing those muscles,” she said. “We have a list on our kitchen wall of things we can do. If I see any posts, I’m keeping them in a little file for things that can be done to mix up the day.”

Client connections
The world is engaging virtually. It’s now how Liz Smith, owner of Serendipity Yoga and Wellness in Homewood, is maintaining connections with clients and the community.

Yoga teacher Liz Smith, owner of Serendipity Yoga and Wellness
in Homewood, is conducting two classes per day from her
home studio. (Provided photo)

After deciding March 15 to close her studio, Smith developed a plan for teaching virtual live classes for members and paying customers. She broadcasts two classes daily in the mornings and evenings. If the times don’t work for people, they can still register for the class and Smith will send them a recording.

“I’m on a very steep learning curve in order to keep my business going and figure out how I am going to continue giving yoga to people. We need it right now,” Smith said. “With the classes we’re recording, I’m really trying hard to make it feel like we’re still together.”

Over the platform Zoom, Smith provides live instruction and occasionally unmutes participants to check in and laugh together.

If she can gain momentum with online teaching, Smith said she can add classes and reactivate some of the 12 contract instructors who normally teach at the studio.
“Then I can pay them, which would be awesome,” Smith said.

An active member of the H-F community, Smith also continues existing partnerships with Homewood Science Center to offer free virtual family yoga on Saturdays, and upcoming online musical yoga with Melody Mart.

Smith, who has a background in education, also continues providing mindful tutoring to 20 children weekly.

“We want to keep families healthy; ultimately, that’s our goal,” Smith said. “If you need to, send me a Facebook message. I’m here for you, and I’m stressed out, too. Just because I’m a yoga teacher doesn’t mean I’m exempt from it.

“I just keep trying to think of ways we can support each other because this is scary. Homewood is my family. I love this place.”

Support the locals
With an order to close dining rooms, many local restaurants have moved to a takeout-only model, including Redbird Cafe, 2057 Ridge Road in Homewood. Owner Kim Nolen said though business is down significantly, she sees “dribs and drabs” of people coming in throughout the day to pick up food and coffee drinks.

“People have expressed that they want to see us make it. They want to see us stay open, and want to do their part to make that happen,” Nolen said. “My gratitude just grows by the day because of folks in the community who want to support us.”

Redbird is now offering pre-ordered family takeout meals for one, two, or four to six people. Nolen said she hopes it will help people who encounter empty store shelves, or lack the time or energy to cook.

“I’m trying to find both creative and innovative ways to keep the business going, but also being mindful of what the community may need and find a way to respond to that,” Nolen said.

She’s planning to soon roll out a Sunday community dinner option, available at no cost. In the spirit of the “suspended” drinks and meals that Redbird customers buy-forward for others, the dinner will rely on those who want to give in support of neighbors in need. 

“I think it’s something we’re supposed to do — starting with us here at Redbird and then as a community — that we take care of one another,” Nolen said. “This might be a period of reset in our priorities, when we realize we haven’t done enough of it, and need to do more of it.”

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