Thankful for resilience, ability to adapt this Thanksgiving

Kids eat lunch at Westwood Elementary.
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Kids eat lunch at Westwood Elementary.

Family, community, resilience, being able to make a difference — those are some of the things our neighbors told us they were thankful for this Thanksgiving.

With COVID-19 vaccines available to everyone 5 years and older, many families can now meet safely for the holidays.

“This is going to be a more meaningful Thanksgiving for a lot of people,” said Sharon Conyers, a church administrator for Revival Center Ministries who lives in Trotwood. “There’s been so much loss of life in the past couple of years. If you can sit down with your family after surviving COVID, I think people will be more grateful about life.”

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A child eats lunch at Westwood Elementary School. (CONTRIBUTED)

A child eats lunch at Westwood Elementary School. (CONTRIBUTED)
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A child eats lunch at Westwood Elementary School. (CONTRIBUTED)

Last year was arguably one of the most disruptive and divisive in anyone’s living memory, so 2021 was poised to clear the very low bar set by 2020 with ease. But the pandemic that defined that year is far from over, and many of the issues that divided the country — and its family holiday dinners — are still with us, in addition to new and unexpected problems, such as the overwhelmed global supply chains that might make sourcing a turkey or Christmas gifts more difficult.

In spite of these continued challenges, what we heard from those in our community gave us hope that we can be grateful for the dogged determination of individuals who rise up to meet those challenges head-on.

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“I’ve heard a lot about the ‘Great Resignation’ where people are tired of working dead-end jobs for little pay but who then go on to create opportunities of their own,” said Dorian Hunter, vice president of business development and marketing for Elliott Insurance Agency in Springfield. “I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurship, a lot of creative ideas and a lot of people trying to take responsibility and power back into their own hands.”

Hunter, who is 25, is also the co-founder of DreamVision, a social enterprise brand that encourages youth to chase their dreams regardless of their circumstances, and the Unified Collective, a community coalition of organizations that direct their efforts toward underserved communities in Springfield.

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Dorian Hunter addresses a crowd gathered last year at the Southern Village Shopping Center in Springfield to speak out against police brutality while advocating for racial equality. He took part in a discussion about equitable development in the south side of Springfield.

Dorian Hunter addresses a crowd gathered last year at the Southern Village Shopping Center in Springfield to speak out against police brutality while advocating for racial equality. He took part in a discussion about equitable development in the south side of Springfield.
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Dorian Hunter addresses a crowd gathered last year at the Southern Village Shopping Center in Springfield to speak out against police brutality while advocating for racial equality. He took part in a discussion about equitable development in the south side of Springfield.

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From left: Aaron Clark, Eric “DJ Swig” Clark, Donald Brownlee, Lazarus Tolliver and Dorian Hunter

From left: Aaron Clark, Eric “DJ Swig” Clark, Donald Brownlee, Lazarus Tolliver and Dorian Hunter
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From left: Aaron Clark, Eric “DJ Swig” Clark, Donald Brownlee, Lazarus Tolliver and Dorian Hunter

“Being a young person, you always pay homage to the people who came before you,” he said. “I’m grateful for the individuals who have worked a lot longer than I have to put in the work to move my community forward. Those individuals made sacrifices greater than I have in times much harder than now.”

Conyers, too, saw the problems brought on by the pandemic and worked to take advantage of opportunities where she could help.

In the fall of last year, a CARES Act grant allowed her and her church to set up a virtual school help site, where parents of children having a difficult time with virtual learning could drop them off for free during the week. The program hired two teachers who were able to assist 25 kids a day from school districts around the area get online and ensure they were turning in assignments.

“I had a parent who said he worked third shift and would come home and do his best just to try to stay awake,” Conyers said. “He was was literally crying when he heard about the opportunity to get help for his child.”

She now oversees a program between Westwood Elementary School and the 21st Century Community Learning Center that provides services to 60 to 70 kids, Monday through Friday. The program was recently able to supply every student at the school with a bookbag.

“I grew up in Westwood, I ate lunches at Westwood Center, I went to the Westwood pool,” said Conyers, who is now 51. “It means everything to me to be able to be a support to the school system and community that I grew up in.”

In Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood, an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency cleanup site that once was a dumping ground for sewage-processing byproducts was turned into a wildlife refuge and destination for bird watchers over the past five years by an army of volunteers, led by Troy and Kathy Schwable. The pandemic led many to find places in nature for solace.

“If you’re outside, social distancing is much easier,” said Troy Schawble, a retired firefighter. “And walking through, there’s this kind of relaxing, getting-out-of-the-house feeling. It’s just a mecca for an unbelievable number of birds and wildlife. We have mink, bobcats, beaver, bald eagles, ospreys and so many more species.”

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Troy and Kathy Schwable stand in a clearing where 100 trees are being planted by members of Hamilton Conservation Corps. and Hamilton city employees at Riverside Natural Area. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Troy and Kathy Schwable stand in a clearing where 100 trees are being planted by members of Hamilton Conservation Corps. and Hamilton city employees at Riverside Natural Area. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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Troy and Kathy Schwable stand in a clearing where 100 trees are being planted by members of Hamilton Conservation Corps. and Hamilton city employees at Riverside Natural Area. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Gratitude takes a different shape for everyone, but many acknowledge the role of their friends and families in their lives.

“I’m grateful for my family and my support systems,” Hunter said. “Everybody who’s been in my corner, who’s supported me and, ultimately, helped me get to the level of influence that I have now in the community is always in the front of my mind.”

“Projects are things to keep your mind your hands occupied,” said Troy Schwable. “But obviously the biggest thing to be grateful for is our families and our health. Our sons and daughters-in-laws are healthy, in good spirits and doing well. I don’t think that Kathy and I could ask for anything more.”

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Seniors volunteer at Westwood Elementary to teach kids different dance techniques. (CONTRIBUTED)

Seniors volunteer at Westwood Elementary to teach kids different dance techniques. (CONTRIBUTED)
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Seniors volunteer at Westwood Elementary to teach kids different dance techniques. (CONTRIBUTED)

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