I have two rules for myself in times of crisis: Don’t buy property or propose. Somehow, the COVID-19 outbreak didn’t throw any red flags. I made one of the most popular pandemic purchases and bought a house. I moved to a new city, then started a new job.

When a friend said, “You’re brave,” I had a flash of panic. Really, how much risk and change could I manage? What I did wasn’t brave. It was necessary – an attempt at taking control and creating a better life.

The pandemic tossed all of us into a state of uncertainty. We muddled through, one day at a time, making the best decisions we could with the information we had at the time. For many of us, the past year challenged us to reexamine how we live, work, learn, and relate to each other. It put priorities into perspective.

I asked my coworkers to reflect and share on a year like no other. The picture that emerges is one of slowing down, reaching for simple joys, and realizing what matters most.

On new hobbies, habits, and working from home

While some of us rearranged our lives, others rearranged their furniture, carving out space to work from home. Amy Steinmeyer, an accounting assistant, and her husband Tom moved a butcher block table from their dining room to a bedroom. Tom got bumped to the basement “office space.”

After some adjustment, she’s loved working from home, especially when it’s warm enough to open a window, feel a breeze and hear birds chirping outside. There’s also a convenience factor – no commute and a stocked fridge close by.

“I enjoyed slowing down and staying home,” she said. “I also discovered that I really missed friends and family that I love and realized how important it is to get together.”

While working from home, Kelli Cavey, director of donor services, found three new “cute coworkers,” the family’s dogs.

She’s also been reading more, including diving into the Harry Potter series with one of her stepdaughters.

“We have a family reading challenge going on with group prizes for certain milestones,” she said. “Prizes include ice cream and family movie night.”

During the winter, Emily Nguyen and her 9-year-old daughter Alexis took up baking and attempted decorated cupcakes. Their favorite fancy confection has been figuring out how to make macaroons.

“With the right recipe and some patience – and an entire weekend – we have made some pretty decent macaroons,” she said. “It has been fun to try something new with my daughter, and they are delicious to eat.”

Besides making a couple major life decisions, I bought a bunch of board games – Parks, Canvas, Fog of Love – took up hiking, and stopped cutting my hair, going from a pixie to ponytails for the first time in 10 years.

On people

Russell Johnston, director of human resources and administration, faced the challenges of hiring during the pandemic, took a lesson from Cher, and learned to roll with it.

Melanie King also switched jobs and cities during the pandemic, coming to Omaha from Des Moines and filling the role as administrative support manager. She realized a lot of things aren’t that important, except family.

Steve Jerina, a donor services specialist, learned how to golf – and how it’s the people in your life that matter most, which includes a group of wonderful coworkers.

On trying, and trying again

For Emily Prauner, a donor services specialist, this past year sparked a new resolve to be a more active environmental advocate.

“I have become an amateur gardener and composter, switched to recycled TP – wrapped in paper not plastic – and use cloth bags as often as I can,” she said.

She’s also mastered the virtual version of Ticket to Ride, watched a lot more trashy TV – Love Island! – and experimented in the kitchen with homemade kombucha and beef jerky. She killed a few plants but managed to keep a few alive, too.

Sometimes trying is half the battle. Donna Kush, president and CEO, attempted to set up a hot yoga room at home and put together a 2,000-piece puzzle. Neither gained much traction, but she did manage to get those pesky closets cleaned, create – and eat – numerous charcuterie and other themed boards, make it through all seasons of The Crown, and play more rounds of golf in one year than she did in the last five – a low bar, she notes.

She’s also learned not to take so much granted, including everything from last-minute get-togethers to going to a yoga class where the room has already been heated to a balmy 102 degrees.

“An outcome of this realization is more spontaneity and hitting the pause button to be in the moment – and the reward is a life filled with more gratitude, graciousness, awareness, and understanding,” she said. “I still have a long way to go, but the journey is far more enjoyable.”

Meet Our New Team Members
What Cher Taught Us While Hiring in a Pandemic