keys for kids

NEW WAY OF LIFE — Coming back to work after maternity leave and seeing Keys for Kids Preschool assistant teacher Kelsey Turner holding Smith's youngest child, Bowen, while wearing a mask was another sign of changing times amid COVID-19.

At the end of the day on Feb. 11, 2020, I had everything organized for my pending maternity leave. I was set to have my baby the next morning, and I knew I would be out of work for the next eight-and-a-half weeks.

Since this was my second baby in 16 months, I knew the drill. Give my coworkers my priority list of what needs to be taken care of, file all important documents in my pretty floral manila folders for easy finding, and clean and arrange my desk with Post-It notes that they could make sense of in my absence. I left that day feeling confident; they’ve done this before – no sweat. What’s the worst that could possibly happen while I am gone?

Well, let me tell you. Things happened while I was gone. In February, talk of the Coronavirus had kind of started. Flu restrictions were in place at the hospital (luckily our parents were able to come and meet our baby boy), and the concern started to grow. Shameless baby plug ahead - Bowen Richard Dale Smith was born Feb. 12, 2020, at 2:34 p.m., 8 pounds, 19 inches long, and absolutely perfect. Anyway, my pediatrician always told me to keep the baby home for the first 28 days to avoid germs, so by the time the actual quarantine started, I was a month into it.

I knew Bona Vista wouldn’t stop providing services. We have 24/7 care provided to adults with disabilities. While I was on FMLA though, I didn’t really know what was going on here. I desperately wanted to be back there to support my organization, my coworkers, my CEO, but I knew where my time needed to be spent. So, I sat the sidelines and watched as everything unfolded without me there. It was a helpless time with absolutely no control.

However, those eight-and-a-half weeks flew by, and I returned back to what kind of looked like my place of work. My job now was all virtual. I was reading up on executive orders, appendixes, policies, protocols, CDC, and WHO documents. Our whole organization shifted overnight. Day programs were shifted to residential services. Teletherapy took the place of clinic visits. Our early childhood services slimmed down. Meetings were Zoomed. Masks were being worn. Hand sanitizer was on back order, and where is the toilet paper!? (Totally kidding. Bona Vista and the Smith household always had toilet paper.)

But, honestly, there were no answers. We couldn’t see beyond a day’s work because news would come out of a surge, more cases, changes from the state or CDC. We were all in uncharted waters. We were all uncertain, and it was hard to find the comfort to muster up. We didn’t know anything about this virus, and that was the scariest part of all.

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But do you know what was comforting? Knowing Bona Vista was still here, going full steam ahead trying our best to navigate this situation. Knowing that we were not giving up and closing the doors. That we found a way to provide services in the midst of a pandemic in the year 2020. We immediately went to our emergency preparedness plan and knew we could manipulate it to what was happening. We went into a mode to protect those we serve and the staff that shows up each day. We were essential.

I read a meme somewhere that said, “And just like that, I’m essential.” I hate that it took a pandemic to show that our staff and organization are essential. I hate that it took the Coronavirus to single out all the heroes who work here and in the healthcare fields because they have always been essential to us and heroes to those they serve.

I left Bona Vista that day on Feb. 11 thinking that I would be coming back to my same office, with my same routine, with the same programs in April. But, nothing is the same. I came back in the middle of what seemed like some sort of dystopian era. I didn’t recognize anything around me except my amazing coworkers who stuck together through it all to see this to the other side.

I don’t think life at work will ever will be the same. I think this has changed us in so many ways. I think this has made us stronger, more confident, and definitely more adaptable. I think we have learned a lot about what we are capable of as an organization. I want to take this time to thank those coworkers I mentioned above. Our CEO, Brianne Boles; and our administrative team for leading us through this time; my coworkers, Alison, Brooklyn, Troy, Marcy, and Shannon for coming together and supporting the agency and each other in our department while I was away; and our caregivers who truly love those they serve and flourished during this time.

I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out thanks to our community. Our lovely community has come together and provided us with so much support. Thank you all so much for #caringthroughCOVID.