Faces of COVID-19 in Sumter County
Connections and Creativity: How Our Methodist Home Is Fueled
Tracy K. Hall
How does a really large family shelter in place during this pandemic? What if that family includes 8 teenage girls who aren’t biologically related to each other? The Americus campus of The Methodist Home is figuring out the answer to those questions. Ella Jordan, the Regional Director for the home reports, “the girls have more time to learn about each other. Their bonding has increased tremendously.” The Methodist Home girls are very much a family. They come from all over the state, from different types of families, they are different races, they bring different cultures, strengths and weaknesses, yet they all share the same roof. When a girl moves in, it is a frightening time for her. She is literally a stranger in her own home. However, the staff and the other residents make quick business of creating a new and yet familiar spot for her. There is safety at the home. There is relief at the home. There is laughter and love at the home. There is indeed family at the home. And at any given time, there are a dozen or more ladies at home.
Finding ways to productively spend time during this pandemic is tough for many families. At the Methodist Home there are staff who take on the challenge as their job. Ella reports Elizabeth Moses, the Program Manager for the home has been really creative in her efforts. The girls have enjoyed at-home water slides, walks to Lake Jennifer, Jeopardy Challenges, sidewalk chalk art and family movie nights. The residents are learning about different cultures by celebrating their evenings with Mexican and Italian themed dinner parties. The cooking and preparation of such events allows the girls to grow in their home economic skills as well as in communication and attachments. There is healing, comfort and community to be found in our kitchens. The Methodist Home’s kitchen is no different. While Elizabeth is busy scheduling out the girls’ days, she also will get some help in completing the challenge. The girls themselves will help brainstorm and create their calendar to pass the time.
As with most of us, staying connected in a virtual manner is important. The young ladies of the home make their way from the home to the office to complete their schoolwork. Often, youth in residential care have a particularly difficult time with performance in school. Multiple moves, inconsistent family support, trauma and loss, and lack of resources can make a huge impact on a youth’s educational development. Ella reports the girls respond well to one on one instruction and face to face interaction with a teacher. While virtual learning is a good option during these times, the girls definitely miss their regular school routine. The staff is also taking on the role of teacher and researcher. Ella reports Google and You Tube have been invaluable in the girls’ educational development. Having on-line teachers explain how to solve problems has been helpful not only to the teens but also for the staff. Residents of the home are members of First United Methodist Church’s youth group. Their spiritual growth is a priority the community of faith takes seriously. Johnny Updike, the minister of the youth group will have Bible studies for his youth every Wednesday night. Ella reports these virtual groups are of great benefit to the girls. While ensuring the girls have a firm foundation in their faith, they also offer an opportunity to connect with other teens. In addition to virtual learning and faith building, visitation with biological families is having to take place with the use of technology. While the staff of the Methodist Home are dedicated in their tireless efforts to provide for all the needs of their residents, they will never be the girls’ grandparents, uncles, aunts, fathers, mothers or siblings. There is often a deep wound only biological family can bring comfort to. The teens are utilizing teleconferencing and facetime technology to strengthen the ties that bind. The girls are understanding of this situation and realize the need for being separate from their families, but it is a special kind of loss to lose physical contact. For many in foster care, the trauma of losing physical contact with family members is an issue they face every day. To lose the limited physical contact remaining can be devastating. Yet, the staff is aware the girls will need special support through these days and they will help them cope as the days progress.
Virtual technologies are not only keeping the girls connected to their school and families, they will also be using it to be in touch with the community. For the past 7 years the home has held an annual 5k race in memory of Jay Williams. This year will be no different. Judy Tott serves as the president of The Methodist Home’s auxiliary. Judy reports there were 3 options for this tradition: “postpone, cancel or hold a virtual run.” Of the 3, the virtual run intrigued her the most. With the help of the Macon Campus of The Methodist Home, and Rebecca Ferguson, the run’s chairperson, the virtual race will take place between June 6th and June 7th. Judy and Rebecca are not disappointed by this development. They consider the potential. Since it will be in a virtual format, it gives folks from all over the country an opportunity to participate. Sponsorships are making the virtual race possible; however, technology has opened the door to creativity. Runners will be able to register online and run their race on their favorite path, including a road, trail, treadmill or track between 8am on June 6th and 6pm on June 7th. The runner will time their own race and submit the results to the Home Run 5K Facebook page. Winners for various age ranges will be announced on June 8th. As with any good 5K, the runner will receive the ever-important t-shirt by picking them up at First Methodist in Americus or via mail. The Methodist Home girls will also be participating in the race this year, although it will look a little different. Typically, the girls are there with posters of thanks for their sponsors as well as cheers and encouragement for the runners. This year the girls will get to participate in the walking and/or running of the race. In addition to celebrating the life of Jay Williams, the race also helps raise much needed funding for the home. Rebecca and Judy report the race helps cover items that are not accounted for in the budget and every penny will stay in Americus for our girls. A summer trip, Christmas dinner, teacher appreciation ceremonies, senior expenses, new bedding, sports fees, and even expenses like going out to dinner are covered by this race’s funding. Typically, a race will register 70 people, the hope is the participation will be even greater this year as it will not be geographically restricted. When asked what our community can do to help, Judy and Rebecca encourage us to sponsor the event, to share the event on social media, and to register for the event. They are excited to have received their first out of state registration, but they are hopeful we will spread the word by using the technology we have so heavily depended upon to stay connected through the past months. While typically the race is called “The Home Run”, the 2020 edition will be referred to as the “Stay at Home Run.”
Connections. They are vitally important in our lives. They have the potential to heal, comfort, bring joy, offer hope and teach us to love beyond ourselves. For the girls of The Methodist Home and the community surrounding them, healthy connections are a daily goal and some days they are not readily available. Some days, we are called upon to loan out our connections on their behalf. Our little village has an opportunity to do just that by running for our girls, by encouraging the folks we are connected to run for our girls. The Methodist Home is a Sumter County institution and a place called home by many. To connect with them, please visit their Facebook page at Home Run 5K, register yourself and your connections to take a stroll with them at www.reacerpal.com/races/homerun.html or give them a call at 229.924.9550.
By: Ken Gustafson
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Sumter County; business at Gladys’ Kitchen here in Americus was going extremely well. However, as it has all other businesses, schools and individuals, the Coronavirus has adversely affected this once thriving and well-known establishment.
“One of our main problems is finding the groceries at an appropriate price to resell customers,” said restaurant owner Tracia Tullis. “There’s a huge deficit on the market with the cost of meat and prices being raised.”
Like most restaurants in the state, Gladys’ Kitchen is only servicing customers by way of drive-thru ordering, but Tullis is hoping that soon the day will come when the restaurant will be allowed to provide dine-in service.
“We have no set date or idea on when that will be,” said Tullis. “We just want to make sure we have the safety precautions for customers and our own employees.”
According to Tullis, those safety precautions will include the six-foot social distancing rule for customers and employees, as well as using sanitation guidelines, such as wearing masks and changing gloves in between usage. “We have to go to all paper products,” said Tullis. “We can’t have anything such as condiments sold to customers. They have to be already prepackaged.”
As much as every business, including restaurants, would like to go back to the way it was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it might not be possible. Therefore, Gladys’ Kitchen is preparing for long-term changes and a “new normal.”
“We plan to limit our dining services and we may not be able to dine the amount that we normally would have prior to the pandemic,” said Tullis. “That is so that we can keep everyone safe under all guidelines despite the pandemic being over. Also, we want to expand our kitchen area to feed more through the drive-thru and that will take away from some of the dining space.”
During the last two and a half months, it has been a hard road to travel for Gladys’ Kitchen, as well as several other eating establishments in Sumter County. Fortunately, with Governor Kemp’s gradual reopening of businesses throughout Georgia, Gladys’ Kitchen is slowly, but surely, getting back on its feet and is continuing its outstanding tradition of great food and customer service to all those who visit.