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Local families explore ways to stay active

Nathan (in red shirt) and Daniel Amerson spend some time playing one-on-one with their newly installed basement basketball hoop. (submitted photo)

IRON RIVER —The COVID-19 virus is continuing to hit communities around the globe, including those in the Upper Peninsula. Local businesses are being shuttered, schools have closed, and people are staying home in hopes that it will slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
    While there are no confirmed cases in Iron County at this point, the orders made downstate and across the country have caused drastic changes in our little community. Entire families now find ways to spend their days together, in their homes, or outside in secluded areas.
    With students learning from home and parents working from home, finding things to balance work and quality time has been something each family has had to do.
    Julie Farley of Gaastra said that she and her family began self-quarantining for the most part before the executive order from the Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer came through.
    “We are staying home unless it is to go to the store, which we are also trying to limit,” she said. “Only one of us goes when we do leave.”
    Julie and her husband, Jerry, have three school-aged children who are still required to do schoolwork from home. Her seventh graders have already finished the work that had been sent home when schools first finished, and they have also has enjoyed the scholastic website.
    “As this is only our second week staying home. I’m sure as time goes by and boredom ensues, more of the free resources online will be used. Right now, we are just trying to find out our new normal for the time being.”
    For many in our community, shuttering the doors was difficult, and left the community missing vital resources.
    For example, one of the first orders in Michigan required libraries to close. However, both librarians Stephanie Swenski and Johanna Johnson have taken the time to create virtual programs that matched the ones our children are used to, such as story-time, craft time, and communicating with their librarians.
    They have made it so that children and their parents can log onto the WIDL Facebook page and tune into a live story-time video every Tuesday and Thursday at 11 a.m. Of course, anyone can watch the replay of story hour as well.
    And because Swenski and Johnson are missing their young patrons, they have also set up a pen-pal program. Anyone interested can send their names and addresses to the library’s Facebook page, and children will receive a letter from Swenski and Johnson, along with other little goodies. The children can write back as well.
    For those missing craft time at the WIDL, those tutorials are also be posted via video on the Facebook page.
    According to Swenski, the library is also recommending the use of digital collections, which have over 10,000 e-books, audio books, and over 200 digital magazines.
    “People can message the library Facebook page or email with questions,” she said.
    Both the WIDL and the Crystal Falls Community Library have said that no fines or late fees will be charged on books that are currently checked out. The WIDL return bins are still available for use, but the Crystal Falls Community Library has asked that books are not returned via the bins at this time.
    While the library resources are a favorite among parents with little children, families are also getting creative on how they keep the kids occupied and spend time together.
    For the Amerson family, this meant Wes Amerson hanging a basketball hoop in their basement so their boys could play. As he is also enlisted in the National Guard, packing his gear is also something they have been doing.
    The Davis family, which consists of Amanda, Jordan, Brooklyn (5) and Charlotte (1), have been turning their living room into impressive forts, obstacle courses, and picnic sites, while still getting outside to enjoy what is left of the snow. Both Amanda and Jordan are essential workers but have said that they still maintain the least amount of contact as possible.
    As spring weather makes its way into Iron County, many parents are taking walks or bike rides with their kids, picking up trash on the side of the road, and FaceTiming friends and family.
    Teachers are reaching out to their students via social media videos and trying to make the most of the situation. For example, West Iron Early Childhood Coordinator Denise Maloney still uses her classroom’s Facebook page to communicate with her students. She has posted craft videos, and messages to say how much she misses them. Other teachers have created online student accounts in order to help the students with classwork.
    One of the main concerns when schools first closed was how to get lunches to families with school-aged children who needed them. The WIC schools have a lunch pick-up program in place that still complies to the executive order, and The Raven’s Nest in Crystal Falls offers a free personal pizza every day for the Forest Park students.
    While our community has been shaken in this weird time, where things change daily, we have also seen businesses change their hours and the way they put out product in order to ensure the safety of those living here. Families get creative both indoors and outside and use the free learning and entertainment resources online to get them through the shelter-in-place order. It’s in this time of separation that we are seeing the entire community to come together.
    In addition to local resources, many zoos, national parks, and celebrities have reached out, providing free content online for all ages.
    The Cincinnati Zoo offers daily animal videos on YouTube, where one animal is highlighted, and viewers learn about its behavior and natural habitat.
    The Kennedy Center offers “Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems,” the artist-in-residence at the center. In these 20-minute videos, viewers learn to draw and new ways of writing. These can be found on YouTube as well.
    The Space Foundation ( has free Snoopy STEM lesson plans available on its website. These lesson plans are for students in grades k-8 and contain projects that allow students to join Snoopy in learning about constellations, space suits, and various missions of the Apollo program.