Faces of Hope

Faces of Hope

After an unthinkable year, essential workers look to the future

April 13, 2021
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We put out our heart lawn signs, we clanged pots and pans from our windows, we gave generous tips to our grocery deliverers, we sewed masks. And we wondered of those essential workers, how do they do it?

Well, we asked them, and it turns out the answer is: It’s been hard. But ultimately, what’s getting them through is each other, and their passion for their work.

We asked teachers, nursing home staff, medical workers, funeral directors, and more: What keeps you going and showing up to work, day in and day out, during these challenging times? And what are you hopeful about in 2021?

We heard about doctors working long hours, tirelessly, to provide critically needed care to patients. From teachers whose jobs now heavily include managing students’ stress. From people who swallowed their personal fear of COVID in order to do their jobs. From funeral directors who risked their health carrying the dead out of hospitals and nursing homes, over and over, at a rate unlike any they’ve ever seen. From people who tried to take the place of the families that aren’t allowed to visit. We heard of lives turned upside down.

Many say they now feel fortunate to have received a vaccination. And when looking toward the future, most use the same word to describe their dream: A return to “normalcy.”

But we’ll let them speak for themselves.

Sarah Faulkner, Ed.D.

8th Grade Science Teacher, East Granby Public Schools

This has been a very, very challenging year to teach public school science. I’m working much harder and longer than usual – and I’m a hard worker – and my personal life is really suffering, never mind all the other stresses of the pandemic, financial concerns, and political/social unrest.

I am teaching students both in school and remotely simultaneously, which requires many new techniques and brings many new problems. But even with all the challenges, I can’t imagine not teaching. It is my passion and drive.

There has never been a more important time for students to understand and respect science. It is absolutely critical that our next generation be well-grounded in a scientific understanding of health, climate change, human needs, and the global ecosystem. They will be voting for and participating in local, state, national, and international issues that may well spell the future for the planet. I want them to be keen observers, knowledgeable evaluators, and strong skeptics. I want them to seek the truth and treat everyone fairly and with justice. Science is the foundation for these.

Teaching brings me and others joy. Students are amazing and hilarious – they make me laugh every day. And cry, too. Their energy recharges my own spirit and batteries, and attending school recharges theirs. And the school and district are a community that supports teachers, which is never more important than at this dark time. I am lucky to have a career that makes a difference, working among others who share my passion and vision. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, and the most rewarding.

I am so hopeful for 2021! Teaching, by its very nature, is a hopeful career, and I’m an enthusiastic teacher. I believe that we can change, we can grow, and we can learn from this time. I hope that we emerge with a much stronger empathy for others and commitment to making our communities, states, nation, and world a fairer and safer place. I hope we can stop, take a breath, listen to each other, and agree on what we have in common – which always exceeds what we disagree about. I hope that all the people who discovered joy in the outdoors during isolation retain their love of nature and work to protect it. I hope that we can help each other to not let the pandemic and other horrors of 2020 leave permanent scars on us and our children. Most of all, I hope that we do not “return to normal,” but rather work to forge a new commitment to unity, support, and respect for all.

2021 has started out very dark, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I hope that soon I can once again enjoy coffee in person with my friends and family!


Amber Jahr

EMT, Bristol Hospital
EMS, Emergency Resource Management
Volunteer for Winsted Area Ambulance Association

What keeps me getting up and going to work every day?

First, let me say this: Being in the field of EMS, is NOT a job. This is a life choice that becomes a part of you. You live EMS, you breathe EMS, it becomes one of the ways in which you define yourself. You build relationships and a family dynamic that I feel are hard-pressed to be comparable in another area of career choice.

So getting up and going into work every day isn’t a difficult task. There’s absolutely nothing stopping me there. If this dynamic was not there, I believe this pandemic would be very different in terms of the healthcare that the world has become familiar with in the pre-hospital setting.

As professional healthcare providers, supporting each other is first and foremost. Honestly, the one and only thing I can hope for in 2021 is for all of my brothers and sisters to stay safe and healthy.

We have a long, long road ahead of us. Stay well, everyone.


Jason Mosher

Funeral Director, Carmon Community Funeral Homes

I think what’s kept me going throughout this whole ordeal is the fact that despite a global pandemic, our goals have remained the same: To help families work though perhaps the most difficult time in their lives by providing the best care and services possible.

Granted, the social distancing and health regulations have forced us to alter how we provide those services. However, I believe that it has allowed us to think outside of the box and come up with new, imaginative ways to accomplish what we were doing before. For me, having to enlist alternate techniques to serve families has reignited my interest in what I do, and that has really helped me push through this pandemic.

As for the future, I hope to see not only our profession, but all aspects of society return to a sense of normalcy. Being able to allow families and friends to come together to celebrate and share their lives once again is what I’m looking forward to the most.

I don’t think that life will be quite the same as it was before the pandemic. I want to believe that we will learn from this event going forward and be better prepared for what may lay ahead.


Shawn Nedjoika

Environmental Controls Supervisor UConn Health

I enjoy going to work because every day is different, meaning my main goal is to see that the heating and ventilation equipment is running correctly. Now, with COVID, it’s been a learning curve how we make changes to patient rooms or operating rooms from positive to negative to protect the nurses and doctors. Another big challenge was, how do we service equipment and keep my crew safe?

I’m hoping the COVID vaccination works, and we can go back to things being normal without masks.


Kimberly Lenois

RN, BSN, RN-BC
Middlesex Health Emergency Department

During these times of political, economic, and public health unpredictability, it’s natural for people to feel uncertain and anxious about what the future holds. Nurses are no exception. Our practice, as we have known it, is no longer routine, with predictable rules and established guidelines. Instead, every day is varied and holds the potential for even more change.

Nurses, like so many others, are feeling as if we have very little control over the current events that impact our days. Personally, it has helped me to be mindful of what I can control, which is my perspective and how I respond to these unpredictable events.

I choose to see this time of change as an opportunity from which to expand my practice and knowledge base. These are novel times, from which one can learn much. Developing new methodologies and sharing insights with peers has been deeply satisfying for me. The level of professional collaboration, unity, and caring during this time is unparalleled to any other time within the past 25 years of my nursing career. Knowing that I am part of a team that is on the front line – observing, learning, and piloting new practice – has been a great source of inspiration.

During this time of social distancing and isolation, I treasure the inventive ways people have discovered to stay in touch. Human connection is so essential to what we do as nurses and who we are personally. It impacts our health and well-being, just as it does those of our patients. Being able to take the time to sit, hold a hand, and be present with my patients is mutually fulfilling, especially when we are both missing our families.

I have seen tremendous acts of kindness and support during these uncertain and unsettling times. The donation of PPE (personal protective equipment) and hot meals has been greatly appreciated, especially during peak acuity times, when work hours increase and time at home decreases. The notes, cards, and letters we have received from grade school children help us realize what role models we have become to future generations.

I am hopeful that the spirit of unity, compassion, and collaboration, which flourished in 2020, will prevail in 2021.

There are many lessons to be learned from these unprecedented times. During a time of crisis, we found resiliency. During this time of social distancing, we found new ways to connect. During a time of political and racial discord, we found harmony and mutual support. For as many challenges as were posed to us in 2020, there are equally as many lessons to be learned, for those who take the time to recognize and reflect upon them. I am most hopeful for health and healing, at all levels, in 2021.


Sierra J. Drevline

RN, BSN, RAC-CT, QCP
Director of Employee Health Services Masonicare

The reason I show up to work every day during these challenging times is simple: I enjoy being a part of the solution. In a world where most people feel out of control, I’m fortunate to work in healthcare – with access to experts whose invaluable knowledge and advice help develop policy and procedure, which in turn create stability.

The decisions my team and I make are supported by infection control standards, influenced by CDC and Connecticut Department of Public Health guidance, and animated by the outstanding frontline staff who take care of our residents. It is an honor to be a part of it.

What I’m hopeful for in 2021 is equilibrium. With the introduction of the vaccine, it is my hope that our society can achieve a degree of normalcy, without forgetting the lessons learned during the past year.


Heather Warner

PT, DPT
Post-Acute Rehabilitation, McLean Health Center

These challenging times remind me of why I became a physical therapist in the first place, and have not only reinforced my pride in the profession, but also in my workplace.

I am considered a frontline essential worker. Helping individuals recover from a surgery or a health issue, and getting them back on their feet, is what I do every day at McLean. This takes face-to-face, hands-on therapy and cannot be delivered remotely. I am focused on doing what needs to be done to get my patients feeling better while staying safe.

It is not only my patients who rely on me, but also my coworkers. They are what keeps me showing up for work and staying focused on my purpose, which is to help others. I made a commitment to myself and McLean that I will show up every day, do my best, and support my peers to help our patients through this very difficult time in their lives.

Staying positive is not always an easy thing to do; it takes a conscious effort and surrounding myself with amazing co-workers to make that happen. I am in a position of knowledge and competency that allows me to help during the pandemic, and I feel honored as a medical professional to do my part.

As a physical therapist, I spend a lot of time with our patients, and oftentimes they share their feelings of not only wanting to get their health back on track, but also their lives. So many people have been isolated from their families due to COVID and I, along with our care team, might be the only people that our patients talk to on a given day. Having conversations and connecting with them is meaningful in their recovery. Making sure that our patients are doing well emotionally is just as important as making sure they’re doing well physically.

In 2021, and with the roll-out of the vaccine, I want what everyone wants – to be able to return to some sense of normalcy. To be allowed to be reunited with loved ones. I am also grateful for the words of wisdom that my patients share with me. Many of them have lived through challenging times and their words comfort me and remind me that eventually we will get back to the simple things in life – things that I know I will never take for granted again.


Julie Tetrault

Dining Room Supervisor, The Saybrook at Haddam

What keeps me going and showing up to work is the people. The residents and the staff. I truly enjoy working with all of them. I have connected with and have a special relationship with each and every resident and feel like they are my family. I want to be there for them and do everything I can for them.

Some don’t have family or anyone close by. With the pandemic going on, they don’t get as many visitors, and they need to have social contact. When I have some free time, I like to stop in and say hello, just to see how they are doing.

I am hopeful that 2021 brings a stop to the COVID-19 pandemic and people can get back to normal. Especially for those who live in nursing homes and assisted living, because they need to be able to see their families and hug them.


Christa Kuhnis

Curbside Service Supervisor, Bishop’s Orchards

Last March, I moved with my husband from NYC to Guilford, right before they closed all the restaurants. I worked in the restaurant industry for more than 10 years. We arrived in Guilford and I realized that I may have to look into a new career path due to the uncertainty in the restaurant business. I always think that everything happens for a reason, even if I loved to work in restaurants.

First, I was just looking for a job; I wanted to work again, and it didn’t matter to me what it was. Bishop’s gave me the opportunity to work as a “picker” for their newly launched curbside grocery pickup program. It was a completely different experience, but I loved it from the beginning – everything from working with a great team, to working to select the best and freshest products you can get.

For me, it’s very important that the customer is satisfied with the product that we are picking for them, as well as making sure the order is complete as best as possible. It makes me happy when I can provide help to people who need it. After almost a year of offering curbside pickup, it’s really lovely to see that our customers are happy and that for some people it’s a lifeline.

As much as COVID-19 brought a lot of negativity, I think that there are a lot of positives to it, too. Of course, your whole life changes, but changes are sometimes good. Change brings you to think about others and lets you appreciate the little things a bit more, as we used to take everything for granted.

I hope for 2021 that everybody stays safe, continuing to help and take care of each other during this difficult time.


Barry Rodgers

Care Associate, The Saybrook at Haddam

I love my job and it makes me feel good that I provide care to our residents, especially at this trying time when they aren’t able to see their loved ones as much. I always feel that care, compassion and kindness can go a long way. To see smiles on residents’ faces, that’s what keeps me going!

I am hoping that we can go back to doing everything that was normal in our everyday lives. COVID-19 has taken a toll on our lives and I am wishing the greatest of health for all of us.


Ami Desai

MHA, LNHA, P.T.
Vice President of Health Services, Duncaster Retirement Community

In a strange way, this past year has been the most challenging, yet the most rewarding, year of my career.

Last February, when we knew that it was a matter of time before the pandemic would hit us, we started to prepare for it with the little information we had about the virus at that time. We knew so little. We looked for information from reliable sources such as CDC, WHO, and DPH. We spent countless hours trying to obtain PPE for frontline staff, educating them on the proper use of PPE and worrying about whether we would have enough to protect our residents and staff.

In keeping with the true Duncaster way, we decided to make the “four Cs” our pillars for all decision-making – care, compassion, containment, communication. Those four Cs helped guide us when we struggled.

What has kept me going is the resiliency and dedication of the staff. As we had our first COVID-positive resident in mid-March [2020], I saw fear and anxiety in the eyes of the frontline staff, yet they showed up, day in and day out, to care for the residents.

I remember in the beginning when we did not have appropriate PPE, staff improvised with ponchos in place of gowns. We stuck together and prevailed. We worked together as a team and it brought us together. We showed up for each other and for our residents. What helped us during that time was the support we received from the community. We had businesses call us and ask what they could do for us, many donated face shields and masks, restaurants donated food. That was indeed heartwarming.

What kept me going, and still does, is the reaffirmation and support from our residents and families as we strive to keep everyone safe and do the right thing. As difficult as it has been for families to not come in and visit their loved ones, they appreciate our efforts, and their support and understanding is crucial to keep us all going.

I am so hopeful for 2021. With the vaccines already here and most of our staff and residents having received their first dose, this is the beginning of the end of COVID. Today, I am hopeful we can invite our families back in. I am hopeful that we can have residents be able to socialize and meet in small groups. I am hopeful that we can give our residents and staff some semblance of normalcy and give them what is most meaningful to them. Knowing that we will still need to follow the COVID protocols for the foreseeable future, I am hopeful that there is light at the end of the tunnel.


Stephen Patrina

Principal, Simsbury High School

What keeps us showing up every day is an easy one: our kids. We believe wholeheartedly in the importance of educating our students and in this time, we also believe it essential to provide stability, routine, and daily friendly faces for their social emotional support.

Our hope for 2021 is that we can return to providing our students with a true, well-rounded and full high school experience that has been so difficult to do this past year.


Maria Portal

Mail Carrier, Canton

What keeps me going? The fact that I’m able to get up in the morning and know God blessed me with a whole new day. Many don’t get another day.

What am I hopeful about in 2021? I’m hopeful that there are still wonderful people in this crazy world of ours. People who take time to write a little note with such kindness.


Keith Grant,

MSN, APRN, FNP-C,CIC
Senior System Director for  Infection Prevention, Hartford HealthCare

What keeps me going? Doing what is right. It is our responsibility to ensure that the community has access to the right information – and that we share it widely. We have to see this through.

We created the infrastructure, process, and policies to keep our colleagues and communities safe. Seeing it through is what motivates me, day in and day out.

I am really looking forward to making up for lost time with loved ones.


Melisha Cumberland, MD

Chief, Department of Medicine, Windham Hospital

What keeps me going is the realization that the work I’m doing is making a difference for families across generations. I celebrate with patients and their families when they experience healing and cures. But I also mourn with them and comfort them when there is illness and loss.

Being hospitalized is one of the most vulnerable times for a person and their family. This is where you see the different emotions and dynamics of patients and families. Physicians take a huge role in putting those different dynamics together to make sure that the goals and plan of care are aligned with what the patient needs. This alone can be an emotional roller coaster and physicians don’t always get it right. It doesn’t always run like a well-oiled machine. But when it does, there is no better feeling for a physician. Whether it’s discharging a patient home with family to finish their healing process or guiding a family though the end of life of a loved one, you’ve made a difference to them. So, despite the challenges and the ups and downs, it becomes worth it for me when I realize, I’ve made a difference.

I’m hopeful that we as a community and a country remain consistent in staying together. It’s easy to come together when we are all going through trials and tribulations. The true authenticity shows when things get better. So as more and more people become vaccinated and we hopefully develop herd immunity, what happens next? My hope is that we continue to support each other and look out for each other. That we continue to be mindful of what we need to keep each other healthy and safe, both mentally and physically.

Jane Latus is proud of her family’s front-line workers, including teachers, a doctor, a funeral director, and a manager of a group home for intellectually disabled adults. She lives in Canton with her husband and an escalating number of cats.

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