Taking Community Centered to a Whole New Level: How Sam Keller is Helping Her Neighbors During COVID

One year ago, this month, our collective lives changed dramatically. Daily life as we knew it suddenly shut down, or rather, locked down, as the COVID-19 virus arrived in the Seattle area. For many, going to work turned into orders to stay at home. Those whose jobs necessitated working in the field were suddenly required to practice social distancing, wear protective face coverings, and other Personal Protection Equipment.​​​​​​​

Sam and her family, like many, are spending a lot more time at home blurring the lines of work, school, and home life.

SPU employees told to work from home had to begin to figure out how and where to work within their living spaces, all while trying to navigate new apps and software many had never used before.

SPU parents with young school-age children had the added responsibility of helping children with remote learning.

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“My kiddo, James, was in preschool when this all started,” says Sam Keller, Community Partnership Planner for the Environmental Justice and Service Equity Team. “My partner, Jay, was still having to go into the office, so it was just me trying to make it all work.”

Not only was Sam trying to care for her child, but many of her neighbor’s kids as well. “Right around us we have five elementary school-age children, so back then we had five kids in our backyard using our Wi-Fi because they did not have it in their own homes. Between 8:20 and 9:30 every morning I was helping the kids with logins, passwords, and other technical help,” Sam says with an exasperated laugh.

Once Seattle schools were able to deliver internet and Wi-Fi to the neighbors, each child could work from their own home. Despite this, one year later, both Sam and Jay are still providing technical assistance, because many of the neighbors are not well versed with computers and technology.

Meanwhile, working remotely has been a challenge for Sam, because she works with a lot of community organizations and facilitates a lot of Race and Social Justice events that benefit from in-person meetings. “It’s frustrating because in facilitation of difficult conversations only a fraction of what is happening in the room comes out of someone’s mouth. The rest – body language, breathing, eye contact – is critically important and almost completely lost online.”

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If you think trying to do her job while simultaneously helping with school and juggling other demands at home sounds difficult, you’re right. Sam had to take COVID Leave to care for James last spring, and again when kindergarten began in September. “You can’t put a six-year-old in front of a computer screen for six hours and expect that it’s going to work without hands-on parental involvement,” she says.

2020 may be behind us, but things are still hard. Sam says that the failure of institutions has led to the unfair burden on her community. Her neighborhood group is racially diverse – White, Black, Latina, and Vietnamese. “The effects of the double pandemic (COVID and racism) have been deeply felt in our little community,” she explains.  We have banded together to survive these pandemics. Jay and I provide technical support to our neighbors because we have capacity. We are fortunate to have capacity to help because we have well-paying government jobs. Our neighbors provide us occasional childcare, food, community, and care. We are weathering this together- because we have to, we don’t have another choice.”

COVID Leave ended in 2020. These days, Sam continues to find ways to get by while she, like the rest of us, looks forward to some relief. She’s fortunate to have her mom nearby, who she says has been a huge help when she  needs to facilitate an online meeting. “She is in our quarantine bubble, so she comes over and helps with James while I work.”

Reflecting on the past year and all its trials, Sam is finally able to laugh…a little. “It has really beaten us down,” she says. “We’re like everyone else – just hoping for the end.”