While Albion College’s campus has closed, residents of the town of Albion continue to push through challenges caused by COVID-19. Local efforts contribute to Albion’s position as a small town fighting through this difficult situation. Here is a look into what is happening around major Albion institutions.
City hall is closed to the public, but the mayor’s office continues to release reports updating the community on town operations.
In a press release on April 4, Mayor Dave Atchinson urged residents to comply with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order as well as to wear face masks while in public. The City Council published proclamations of thanks on April 6 to various groups of people who continue to sacrifice and give during this outbreak. Among the individuals thanked by the City Council is Elijah Armstrong Jr., a community resident who delivers food throughout town to families in need, through Marshall Public Schools.
“I do this work as a community member because I love Albion,” said Armstrong “I am passionate about the town and love working with the youth.”
Outside of City Hall, the Greater Albion Chamber of Commerce is a source of information for Albion businesses. According to Eric Worley, President and CEO of the Greater Albion Chamber of Commerce, they are working with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Calhoun County to ensure that Albion businesses have reliable resources and information. In addition to creating a Coronavirus toolkit on their website for anyone to use, they have conveyed this information through emails and social media.
“The best case scenario is that we come out of this in a month with a greater appreciation for what we have,” said Worley, via email. “We flood to our local businesses to tell them how much we missed them, and we show some genuine gratitude to our essential workers: healthcare professionals, educators, food service workers, first responders, etc. They have been our rocks during this time, and they need to know we appreciate them.”
Municipalities are held together by people and are not exempt from the effects of the pandemic. While they are working to support Albion residents, they have had to make some sacrifices themselves.
“It’s difficult to see our community and so many others brought to a screeching halt because it so drastically affects every single person in an unfortunate way,” said Anna Watson (‘19), Albion alumna and marketing manager at the Greater Albion Chamber of Commerce, via email. “I’ve been indefinitely laid off and so have so many of my friends. We’re all going through this crazy and uncertain time, so I’m just trying my best to take the changes as they come and remain positive.”
Nonprofits and Enterprises
According to Albion alumna Caroline Dobbins-Hurteau (‘12), area businesses have had to make many adjustments of their own.
Foundry Bakehouse and Deli, for instance, added take and bake meals to its menu, like lasagna and chicken pot pie, in addition to continuing to offer breakfast and lunch options off its typical menu. The Bohm Theater transitioned its monthly Blues at the Bohm event to a live-stream. The Albion Food Hub has continued to help those in need ensure they have access to food and has partnered with organizations like the Albion-Homer United Way to ensure that its twice-monthly food distributions can continue.
“All of these changes impact how connected we feel as a community. Businesses aren’t seeing their regular customers,” said Dobbins-Hurteau, via email. “I believe that our community is feeling a bit disconnected right now. However, there is an outpouring of support in donations to organizations like the Albion Homer United Way and those who continue to buy from local businesses as they are able.”
The sense of community is seen in what people are doing for each other. Armstrong is one of many Albion residents who have indefinitely lost a job due to businesses not operating in person.
For Armstrong, a worker at the Albion Malleable Brewing Company, the loss in income was a personal sacrifice. He decided to step down so coworkers who needed the job more to provide for family members would be able to keep some of their income. While the change was hurtful at first, he said that he has found other ways to continue to use his creativity and people-skills to contribute to the community.
Armstrong represents Starr Commonwealth in distributing meals. Starr Commonwealth is currently a national leader in providing virtual material for community leaders and members during this time. They have created free courses for professionals to get certified in trauma informed support. The lessons reach a wide range of people, and represent different communities. Since the courses were launched in response to the need for social distancing, over 40,000 teachers around the country have made use of the resources.
Constant redevelopment of resources and events are a part of the new routine. Businesses and local nonprofits are committed to serving the community and are finding ways to continue the work they had planned far in advance.
Dobbins-Hurteau is the community liaison at Caster Concepts and is continuing to plan for events, including the Run Albion 5k series and the Swingin’ at the Shell summer concert series, for when gatherings can happen once again.
“We are committed to these community events and making plans for both a return to normal or a creative new way to bring our community together, from a socially safe distance,” said Dobbins-Hurteau. “It has truly been all hands on deck for our family and all families, whether they own a business or not, to make it through these days that seem to bring a new challenge every hour.”
Dobbins-Hurteau said that she sees a positive result of all the efforts various businesses are putting in. She said the crisis will teach us valuable lessons, including realizing the value in gathering and creating community.
“I believe we will learn just how resilient we are,” said Dobbins-Hurteau. “Albion has been through a lot, and this will not be the last challenge we face but we can learn, iterate and change based on each challenge and that is what will make us stronger.”
Schools and Youth Services
The Albion District Library has provided many tools for families to remain engaged in learning. These include digital escape rooms, aquariums, storytime and other language development activities. They have also provided information about schools, meal delivery and ongoing community activities for young people in Albion.
Marshall Public Schools, along with all Michigan K-12 schools, closed on March 16 after an order from Governor Whitmer and State Superintendent Michael Rice. At that time, meals would be dropped off to students in need. Since Governor Whitmer’s stay at home order, meals are now available for pick up at various locations, including Harrington Elementary School.
The new form of education presents a challenge for school teachers as well as students. In a communication to district families, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Davis noted that a priority in distance learning models would be meeting students’ social and emotional needs.
“I miss my friends and teachers so much,” said Charlie Jensen-Abbott, a student in Kara Tobias’ first grade class at Harrington Elementary School.
Charlie stays engaged in his learning through packets of study material and homework put together by his teacher. His packet is mailed with pre-postage paid return envelopes. Charlie’s teacher has taken an extra step to make a Facebook page and conduct zoom meetings with her class, in addition to texting, calling and emailing assignments.
“My family and I believe Harrington Elementary has done amazing things in trying to keep our students engaged academically as well as emotionally,” said Dr. Lia Jensen-Abbott, in an email. Jensen-Abbott is Charlie’s mother, and an assistant professor of Piano and Music Theory at Albion College. “We are so happy and proud to have the wonderful team at Harrington Elementary looking out so diligently and working so hard for the kids and their families.”
Jensen-Abbott noted that there are many groups collaborating to keep Albion’s momentum going. She said that she has faith that the town will continue to grow and emerge from the situation as a stronger, more thriving community. She reflected on the impact that the changes have had for her as a professor living in town.
“While I am able to do my job with online technology, there is a reason that students want to come to a small liberal arts residential campus. I miss the kids, my colleagues and the day to day life of our community,” said Jensen-Abbott. “For our family, we miss attending Albion College sporting events, and I will miss saying goodbye to my seniors. Saying goodbye via email just isn’t the same.”
Many K-12 students in Albion, as well as students at Albion College, look forward to the annual Big Read events. While there is still much uncertainty about what will happen to scheduled events, adjustments are being made to carry out the mission of the program in whatever ways possible.
“We don’t know for certain how the pandemic will impact Albion’s 2020 Big Read,” said Jess Roberts, director of Albion’s Big Read and English professor at Albion College, via email. “We do know for certain that Albion’s Big Read will figure out how to do what it does every year: value and celebrate young people, Albion, human connection, imagination, community and books.”
Many youth in Albion attend other mentoring and support programs such as Kids at Hope Youth Development Center. These programs are also working to find innovative ways to fulfill their missions in these unprecedented times.
“This is uncharted territory even for me,” said Dr. Harry Bonner, via email. Bonner is the executive director of Substance Abuse Prevention Services and the Kids At Hope Youth Development Center. “I have been working with youth in the substance abuse prevention field for over 40 years and have never experienced a career challenge like the COVID-19 crisis.”
Bonner and his prevention staff have developed virtual programming and conduct many of their campaigns for youth and adults through Zoom meetings. However, there is a clear lack of opportunities for youth with the loss of face-to-face contact with their mentors, teachers and community partners.
“A big loss has been the loss of our relationship with Dr. Barb Keyes, Albion College psychology professor, and her student interns. They mentored our high school students at Marshall Opportunity High School, at Marshall Academy Charter Schools, and Marshall Middle School,” said Bonner. “Plus, we cannot do our after school mentoring program with Larry Williams, Albion City Recreation director and Albion Community Center director.”
While there are obvious challenges brought along with the pandemic, there is a strong sense of hope in town. Many residents believe that this will bring the community closer together.
“This is a time for everybody to work together. It shows us that no one’s better than another,” said Armstrong. “We should quit looking on the outside and get to know each other as people. We should see each other as one. Together as one we are more peaceful.”
Roberts echoed the sentiment felt by many residents: confidence in Albion to get through this new situation.
“The town of Albion knows how to endure. It has faced countless challenges – more than any town should have to,” said Roberts. “We have practice at weathering storms. I suspect that the things that will get us all through this storm are the things that have gotten us through in the past: love of this place, love of this community, and, most of all perhaps, people’s willingness to do the work.”