Thrive Town Halls offer outlet during pandemic

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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In late March, Oak Park's Thrive Counseling Center began hosting Town Hall meetings via Zoom as a means of surviving and thriving in the new reality of COVID-19. People from the community came together, and the group grew as newcomers joined each week. 

Attendees came from Oak Park and beyond and varied in gender, age, marital status, and occupation. Some had children, some were working and some were retired. What we shared was a desire for connection in a time of great uncertainty. What resulted was a stimulating weekly discussion from a diverse group of remarkably intelligent, passionate, articulate people.

These gatherings weren't counseling sessions, but rather open, free-flowing discussions moderated by Thrive board member and local family therapist Steven Parker. The meetings gave us the opportunity to discuss the scope and impact of COVID and the shelter-in-place orders. We shared stories and information, and posed questions about what health care, employment, and the economy might look like going forward. As a group foundation of trust and respect emerged, people began to open up about personal experiences of anxiety, anger, uncertainty, frustration, and isolation brought on by this virus and its unprecedented implications.

At first, we were all dealing with adjustment to what we hoped would not be the "new normal." As time passed and it dawned on us that mask-wearing and social-distancing were, in fact, ongoing, we wrestled with ways to remain productive and maintain a sense of purpose within these new parameters in our everyday lives.

In late May, the discussion shifted, following the killing of George Floyd. We were all supportive of the peaceful protests, but as vigilantes patrolled streets with assault weapons in cities across the country and as looting and destruction of property began in our city and even our village, we felt the need to vocalize our perceptions, fears and possible solutions to the problem of systemic police violence. We discussed the controversial phrase, "defund the police" and how it might be misinterpreted; a particular discussion included expert input about restorative justice by Brian Collier, dean of Restorative Justice at Manley High School.

As we look ahead, we expect the change of seasons to bring challenges. Colder weather may bring about increased feelings of isolation and frustration. Indoor gatherings may give the virus a renewed foothold. Issues with children and schooling and working will remain demanding. This is all new, and it all requires unique and creative responses. The Thrive Town Hall meeting is something stimulating to look forward to and holds a place on our calendars. We cannot think of a more supportive, honest approach to these times than to join with other interesting people to focus, process and brainstorm the current and pressing issues before us.

As the fall season progresses and people's schedules fill up, we want our meetings to be relevant, focused, and accessible time-wise. We're considering changes. As we put together our next meeting, we invite you and others from outside our community to join us, and we want your input. What are some of your most pressing concerns and issues at this time? What topics would you like to hear about? When would you be available to join us for an hour, and how often? Please email or phone us at Thrive with your interests and availability. All suggestions are welcome. Contact Wynne Lacey at 708-383-7500, x111 or wlacey@thrivecc.org.

Nancy Hess, Kathy Haney, John Van Aalst, Beth Fischer, Amy Stearns,
Ben Rankin-Parker, Marty Parker

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