March marks the one-year anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 in Colorado. KRCC caught up with community members to see how they're navigating the pandemic a year in.
Poet, artist and organizer
Back in June, Nico Wilkinson was figuring out what writing poetry looked like during a pandemic. The poet and artist from Colorado Springs contracted coronavirus in December and it shifted their relationship to creating art.
"I feel like I'm getting more honest with myself about the things that I'm afraid of," Wilkinson said. "And I would think I once heard that, like, the poems you're afraid to write are the poems you need to write. And that's something I've tried to keep in mind."
Wilkinson also took this time to let go of perfectionism. They've started new hobbies like pottery, watercolors and making prints.
"If you're like me, and for a long time art wasn't fun, because you had, like, so much pressure you were putting on yourself, starting a new hobby can be really great for taking that pressure off, and just doing what you wanna do," they said. "Give it a try. Let yourself be bad."
Wilkinson is also the host of the local open mic called Keep Colorado Springs Queer, and has had a few virtual shows over the past few months. The plan is to keep having virtual components to the shows even when folks are allowed to meet in person to increase accessibility for everyone.
Section chief for mental health in Southern Colorado with the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System
Last April, Andrea Rehmert was working to help veterans get connected to mental health services via phone or telehealth platforms. The VA used VA Video Connect to facilitate mental health consults across the region.
"We were able to pivot pretty quickly," Rehmert said. "We had a huge increase in the number of appointments that were completed by telephone and by VVC. We also expanded our group services through those modalities, really inventive ways to try to connect to our veterans."
The VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System is back to serving veterans at pre-pandemic rates now after experiencing a dip last summer. Rehmert said themes of anxiety and lack of community have emerged for veterans accessing services.
"The information from my team is just a lot of themes about not understanding why this is happening," Rehmert said. "[And] looking for some social connection which is difficult in a pandemic where we can't really get together in the way that we used to."
One way Rehmert said the organization has combated isolation is daily check-ins from peer support specialists, in addition to group telehealth appointments. Rehmert, who is also coordinating the organization's vaccine response for Southern Colorado, said they've administered around 15,000 first doses of the vaccine to veterans.
Non-attorney advocate with the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition
Last April, Kristen Castor was working on getting the word out about coronavirus to people with disabilities. The Pueblo resident said the early days of the pandemic for her were marked by the death of a long-time mentor. He passed in a nursing home as COVID-19 was ramping up, so she wasn't able to visit him.
For many folks with disabilities who might have already been homebound, this has been an overwhelming year. Castor said she's already begun to think of ways to start bringing people together once they've been vaccinated.
"We'll have to put together activities to put everybody in communication, and kind of do the healing," said Castor. "And that's what I'm looking at is the healing from being isolated for so long."
Castor said she's scheduled for her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the next few weeks at a local Walmart in Pueblo.
If there's one phrase that captures being an artist during the pandemic, Jasmine Dillavou said it's "going with the flow."
"There was like these moments of standstill, but no one allowed that to stay for too long," Dillavou said. "We have to reevaluate everything, we're gonna start fresh, and we're gonna have to keep starting fresh every few months, so long as this is still a thing. But it really is like a test of our perseverance. And that makes me like, excited and hopeful."
While many performances have moved online, or incorporated virtual aspects, Dillavou didn't really see adaptation as a choice, more of a necessity. She's had some socially distanced in-person performances recently, including one at Kreuser Gallery in downtown Colorado Springs.
"It's a movement piece, heavy on the body," said Dillavou. "I was like, I have to do this whole piece with a mask on. How much distance do I need to give my 15 audience members? If we're going to be miked so that we can put it [out] virtually, how do we get it audio recorded properly? All this stuff I've never really had to figure out before. My performance is going to read so much different when half of my face is covered."
Dillavou has been hyper-conscious of what role art played in the community before COVID-19 hit. For her, this new year is about being present.
"As we move into this next year of some certainty, some uncertainty, the hope is that we stand by the arts community and turn out, even though it does get hard," she said. "The virtual burnout is real, but [my hope is] we keep showing up for each other and that's the most valuable thing we can do."
Dillavou is excited for what the summer could hold for the arts community and eager to have more interactive spaces as coronavirus restrictions ease.
Executive director of Inside Out Youth Services
Last April, Jessie Pocock of Inside Out Youth Services in Colorado Springs had just finished moving services online for LGBTQ youth. With their physical location closed, Pocock was concerned about ways to reach homeless LGBTQ youth in the city. She said around one in three people who visit the center are experiencing homelessness.
Reflecting back on a year of virtual services, it has shown Pocock the resiliency of her staff and the young people they serve.
"We all reimagined what coming together in queer community looks like," Pocock said. "It really has been such a learning experience and also such a hard experience not being able to be in community together in person."
Expanded online services allowed the organization to reach youth in rural areas that might not have made it to their facility. Pocock said a big focus of their programming has been helping young folks navigate the mental health challenges of the pandemic. She said she doesn't think that will change even after the pandemic ends.
"We still need to be supportive," Pocock said. "We still need to consider how mental health services are accessible by young people. We still need to push forward to ensure the best, healthiest transition back to normalcy can occur for them and their families. Just really encouraging the community to support LGBTQ young people, to continue that support and affirmation."
Inside Out Youth Services is planning a reopening in late April, with a hybrid model of services both in-person and online.
Director of family and children services with the Pikes Peak Library District
The Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs used the last year to create new strategies to engage parents and children during the pandemic. Melody Alvarez, who serves as the director of family and children's services, started hosting virtual storytimes three times a week back in April.
Now, the library has started to host drive-in storytimes for families, along with providing craft projects and other skillshare opportunities for adults.
"2021 is still up in the air, like what's it going to look like, when will we back to full-on service, but we know that we're going to do the best that we can by offering what we can in a safe manner but still having fun," Alvarez said.
She said they plan to continue curbside pickup as well as keep hosting virtual programs to provide access to working families.
You are one of the KRCC readers who wants to know what is really going on in Southern Colorado these days. We have got just the thing for people like you: the KRCC Weekly Digest. Sign up here and we will see you in your email inbox soon!