Bringing The World Home To You

© 2022 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
91.5 Chapel Hill 88.9 Manteo 90.9 Rocky Mount 91.1 Welcome 91.9 Fayetteville 90.5 Buxton 94.1 Lumberton 99.9 Southern Pines
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News

How 2021 brought a glimpse of pre-pandemic life for these North Carolinians

North Carolinians shared stories about how the adjusted to the pandemic in 2021.
Natalie Dudas-Thomas
/
North Carolinians shared stories about how the adjusted to the pandemic in 2021

The year 2020 threw the lives of billions of people off course. In 2021, as vaccines became available and individuals learned how to take safety precautions to protect against COVID-19, some people started to re-incorporate elements of their pre-pandemic lives.

As the new omicron variant puts that return to “normal” on hold, North Carolinians reflect on this past year, and how it isn't — but in some ways still is — like 2020. Answers have been edited for length.

Odessa Hines, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate originally from New York who has lived in Apex for 15 years

Odessa Hines with son Karter, 12, and husband Kevin, at the Grand Canyon during Thanksgiving.
Courtesy Odessa Hines
/
From left: Odessa Hines with son Karter, 12, and husband Kevin, at the Grand Canyon during Thanksgiving.

How did 2020 change for you?

Last year was just a year of a lot of nervousness and anxiousness. Personally in my family, we felt the effects of COVID-19. My mother-in-law was hospitalized for nearly a month with COVID-19; she was in a coma and on a ventilator. And by the grace of God, she survived. So this time last year, we were just grateful for her recovery and just grateful for her being home. So last year was tough. It was tough.

How did 2021 look more normal?

This year, it feels like a renewing. It really does. It feels as though we are – slowly – coming out of this COVID black cloud that has been over us for nearly two years. Even back starting with Thanksgiving last month, we were able to gather with our family. All of us are vaccinated, all of us got boosters. We have children in our family who are old enough to get the vaccine, so they got it as well. And we felt safe. That's a word I feel like I could not use a year ago during the holidays.

And I'm just grateful to have that, because it's taught me that I cannot take this life of ours for granted. You need to tell your loved ones that you love them, you need to give them a hug, you need to let them know. Because when you think about the staggering amount of people that have passed away from this virus, you're just grateful that you're here.

What about 2021 still looked more like 2020 than prior years?

For us, masks are becoming a way of life. We have a lot of our towns and governments rolling back mask mandates, but I'm seeing the numbers here in North Carolina go up and up and up. And for me, it feels like masks are now a way of life for us. I don't think I will go back to entering a store without a mask on. So I feel like that's a holdover from 2020 that's going to continue. And I'm OK if that's what we need to do to be safe. I'm OK wearing my mask wherever and whenever.

There are some good pieces I do see out of this. It's just really made me even more grateful, and to take those opportunities and not take things for granted. It's unfortunate that it took the pandemic to see a little of that, but it really has opened my eyes. … I hope we've been able to give each other a bit of grace. And knowing that folks are going through a lot, let's just be more mindful and kind to each other. The mask is not going to kill you. Let's be kind to each other. And let's help protect each other.

Libby Richards, community engagement manager, Lenovo

Libby Richards, a community engagement manager at Lenovo
Courtesy Libby Richards
/
Libby Richards, a community engagement manager at Lenovo

How did 2020 change for you?

The year 2020 was one of personal and professional highs and lows. My son was born in November 2019. His first few months of life were full of visiting with friends and family, and outings with his two-year-old brother. I was planning to return to work at the end of March 2020 at Lenovo’s office in Morrisville, NC as community engagement manager, where I guide Lenovo’s philanthropic giving and employee volunteer efforts in the US and Canada. Two weeks prior to my end of my maternity leave, the office was closed due to the pandemic and hasn’t reopened.

The next several months were extremely stressful as a parent of young children. After carefully weighing the medical risks of the pandemic, my husband and I chose to keep our kids home with us instead of taking them to daycare as planned. We were lucky that our jobs allowed us to adjust our schedule to care for them during the day, and work in the evenings. For seven months we juggled full-time parenting and full-time jobs, and at times feeling like we were failing at both. However, we also found joy in the time we were able to spend together as a family.

How did 2021 look more normal?

I wouldn’t say that life in 2021 looks more normal, but rather my definition of “normal” has changed. I’ve become comfortable working from home, with the help of in-home childcare. I’ve enjoyed eating lunch together with my family early every day, and my husband and I have adjusted to working side-by-side in our basement with the help of some good headphones.

What about 2021 still looked more like 2020 than prior years?

The majority of Lenovo staff have continued to work virtually, with occasional in-person, socially distanced meetings. We’ve continued to support community needs resulting from the pandemic by providing in-kind donations and grants, while remaining steadfast to our focus on increasing access to technology and STEM education for diverse populations. Our staff have volunteered both virtually and increasingly more in-person. Staff have found creative ways to make an impact through activities like virtual one-on-one career conversations with students, or packing hygiene kits at home to be donated to local organizations that support those in need.

My family continues to be COVID cautious because our children are too young to be vaccinated. We tend to limit interactions with other to outdoor spaces.

John Samuel, co-founder of Ablr360

John Samuel, co-founder of Ablr360
Courtesy John Samuel
/
John Samuel, co-founder of Ablr360

How did 2020 change for you?

We launched a new business towards the end of 2020 called Ablr, but 2021 was really our first year of operations and my first year as a CEO of this new venture. We added several new members to the team, and had to let go of several as well. It was hard to build a culture remotely, but after an intense leadership meeting, we realized what was important and turned things around.

How did 2021 look more normal?

I had the opportunity to speak in front of live audiences again, which was so refreshing! Even though I’m blind, there is something about the atmosphere of speaking to people face to face, rather than a Zoom screen, which I feel allows me to connect with people even if I can’t make eye contact.

What about 2021 still looked more like 2020 than prior years?

Being a working parent, with little ones in daycare and having to manage COVID precautions were challenging, because there was a fear of not knowing if we were going to have the kids home or be in quarantine at any given moment like in 2020. This unknown is challenging, and I’m surprised I still have my hair!

Jarrod Overson, self-employed running the software company Vino Technologies in Cary

Jarrod Overson with family
Jarrod Overson
/
Jarrod Overson with family

How did 2020 change for you?

My wife and I and have three kids, two boys and a girl. Twenty-twenty was a very, very difficult time. Just juggling everything all at once. We moved here about four years ago and were trying to build that friendship network with families with kids around the same age. So we were trying to do a lot, especially around the holidays like gingerbread house baking events, or inviting people over for Thanksgiving, or going to New Year's parties. Then last year, everything just came crashing down. It was disheartening. I mean, the pandemic, with a lot of uncertainty, was difficult on its own, and it was hard to see our relationships that we were building just start to grow further and further apart.

And people have moved away, and we've lost people close to us. It was hard. We certainly spent a lot more time together as a family, which was a silver lining. But it was hard to see all those relationships go to the wayside.

How did 2021 look more normal?

We're not having any large events like we had before. No house parties or getting everyone together. But it's much easier to have smaller events.

The priorities of the kids (ages 11, nine, and almost six) has also changed. Now that it's been so long since we've really gone on a family trip together, they now miss it. They no longer are prioritizing stuff. They've been stuck with their own stuff for almost two years now. Adding more stuff is not going to add any greater memories. So it's great to see the kids now also sayings like: 'I want to just go on a trip; I want to go on vacation.' So we can deprioritize Christmas presents and all the plastic junk that we normally get them and then translate all that to a nice vacation in the summer or something like that. So it's great that the kids have now been able to understand that value themselves.

What about 2021 still looked more like 2020 than prior years?

Every family still has their own rules and concerns and family members they are looking out for, so we are still trying to figure out who we can see and under what circumstances. So plans are made and canceled. The kids are back in school, but if there's a COVID case and someone needs to quarantine it can make it difficult to get together. With work, video calls are still very common. It's kind of like pandemic purgatory.

Bruce Friend, Pine Springs Preparatory Academy head of school

Bruce Friend
Pine Springs Preparatory Academy
/
Bruce Friend

How did 2020 change for you?

We didn't have the opportunity to visit extended family. Visiting family that live in Florida and parents and other family in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, we never got to see them.

I'm the father of three girls and they're very active in dancing. My one daughter was a senior in high school, and you usually have the dance performances, and we didn't get to participate in that. And that was disappointing because it was her senior year.

How did 2021 look more normal?

The ability to go visit family that last year we couldn't. And a greater opportunity to interact with our friends here in the local community as well. Things have opened up quite a bit more since last year. So some of those holiday parties, white elephant gift exchanges that you couldn't do last year.

On the work front, while we still have a mask mandate at our school indoors, our wonderful PTO has prepared for Storytime with Santa for our young students and we have a holiday dance this evening. And so that feels like at least at the school level that we're starting to get back to some of those activities that build community with your students and with your families.

What about 2021 still looked more like 2020 than prior years?

We're still requiring students to wear masks while they're indoors. I think that overall, just greater awareness of the importance that all of us have in terms of our health, both at work and at home. A greater attention to being healthy and not taking for granted that you don't want to come to work or be at home and put other people at risk of getting ill.

And I'd like to think a greater appreciation for your loved ones around you near and far that you don't take them for granted. We've seen over the last 18 months people who are friends and family members who were lost because of what we've all gone through. And so maybe there's time for a collective pause, just take stock in what you have, and to never take for granted what you have in your life.

More Stories