In mid-March, as Michigan pulled together and hunkered down to slow the spread of the coronavirus, our *cino crew was watching and waiting to see how our plans to welcome new people into our community this spring might change. We had a couple from Vermont planning to move into our new caretaker’s house, and we anticipated hiring seven new AmeriCorps partners—three year-long VISTAs and four summer associates—with several of these folks moving into our community house. With everything changing so fast and a growing awareness that the situation would continue for many months, we had no idea what to expect.
We continued our recruiting and hiring processes and eventually, AmeriCorps confirmed our May 11 start date for our new VISTAs. We were super excited about the three folks who agreed to join us, but how could we form a new household safely? And what would we do about the summer folks starting June 1?
So we started gathering the best, most reliable information we could and came up with a plan that we feel very good about. Because we’re a very visible group of people and because we want to maintain a sense of transparency and accountability with our broader Three Rivers community, we want to lay out some of the details of our plan.
- As of March 16, all members of *cino’s four community households began practicing self-isolation, with distancing and other safety practices for any essential trips outside the house.
- Thanks to adaptations allowed by AmeriCorps, our *cino staff began working remotely and our weekly community meetings shifted to video. We pivoted our work to support the acute needs of our local community with resources like emergency assistance information and free vegetable seeds.
- When Dan and Margaret traveled from Vermont and moved into the Huss Caretaker’s House in mid-April, we welcomed them from a distance with a housewarming gift and video gatherings, while they spent their first two weeks here in self-isolation.
- Our May 8 going-away party for two of our community house residents was a multi-faceted, creatively-distanced affair, with ways to participate by mail, text, e-mail, drive/walk/bike-by, and video. (We heard from several folks that it was the best going-away party they’d ever “attended,” so those of us who are trying to figure out how to do grad parties, showers, and so on this spring and summer: it is possible!).
- New AmeriCorps VISTAs moving into the community house on May 9 self-isolated for two weeks prior to moving into the house.
- As of May 9, the *cino community house at 208 N. Main Street started a “reset,” with the new group of residents self-isolating together for two weeks to establish a new primary household. During this two weeks, we’re conducting an orientation program through video and outdoor, physically-distanced points of connection.
- For the foreseeable future, any new residents of the community house will self-isolate for two weeks before joining the household.
- Our summer work is shifting almost entirely to fresh food production and distribution, so labor will be outdoors as much as possible with collectively designed safety practices based on the relationships among the individuals working together.
- We’re working on a visual model that will help us all understand how we relate to one another practically and emotionally to support one another’s physical health, as well as the health of our relationships.
So why are we sharing all of this? Well, one of the challenges of this time is managing our feelings of anxiety, fear, and judgment, no matter our opinion of the pandemic response. We see a group of people gathered outside a house, clearly not residents of the same household: are they blowing off the rules? We see someone wearing a mask driving alone in their car: are they just trying shame me for not wearing a mask on my walk? In a time of such remarkable instability and uncertainty, judgment is a natural impulse, but we can practice giving the benefit of the doubt, asking genuine questions, and offering transparency.
We want our neighbors to know without a doubt: our *cino community is taking this thing seriously in the interest of supporting the health of our vulnerable family members, the essential workers with whom we come into contact, our partners at the Huss Project, our local healthcare workers—all our neighbors! When you see us out and about in our neighborhoods, working at the farm, staffing our new Saturday market at the Huss Project, we want you to know we’re taking good care for you, for ourselves, and for all of us.
Even though we’re tired of it already…
Even though the degree of risk is low…
Even though we’d love to hug our friend who’s moving across the country after two years here…
Even though we’d much rather get back to normal and throw a big party…
We will continue to practice intentional safety measures as long as we need to for the sake of public health and the common good.
If anyone ever wonders where we stand and what we’re doing to be safe together, please don’t hesitate to ask. This is going to be a long haul, friends, and we’ll get through it best with shared information, grace, transparency, and mutual respect.