I remember last year when we were anticipating 2020, many people were coming up with some catchy slogans.  “2020 – the year of clear vision”, “2020 – Looking to the future”.  Some wanted Barbara Walters to announce on the New Year’s Eve shows when the ball dropped, “This is 2020”.  A year later, you see pictures of a wasp nest with the caption, “If 2020 was a pinata”.  2020 didn’t work out like we “envisioned”. 

We could never have dreamed that 2020 would look like it did.  In fact, at times it was more of a nightmare.  You are probably tired of hearing about the fire, but it is stamped on our minds.  I think that at least once a day you will hear one of us saying “oh remember that, it’s gone.”  We actually only salvaged three things from our office.  We have 2 tablecloths that we used for events (and only because I brought them home to wash), our incorporation book (damaged by smoke and water even though it was in our “safe”) and the letter “N” from our outdoor sign (we dug it out of the rubble the day after).   

It is hard to believe that this event was one year ago.  It still seems like yesterday.  Even though we are in our new office and we have replaced almost everything that we lost, the events are still branded into our memory.  But you really know who you can count on when the “chips have burnt to a crisp”.  Our staff jumped in and adapted to our new temporary home at YES Employment.  They also were patient with me when I would let out a noise of frustration.  One situation still makes us laugh.  We were trying to forward our phone number to our cell phones so that people could still reach us.  The very helpful (I say that last word while gritting my teeth) person at our phone provider said to me “Yes I can do that for you.  Ok, if you can pick up the receiver of the original phone, then we can forward to your cell phone.”  I told her that there wasn’t a phone to pick up because it was destroyed in a fire.  “Well, madam, I can’t forward the number to your cell unless you pick up the receiver of the original phone.”  Anger and frustration started to rise, and I told her forcefully that there was no phone to pick up.  I eventually had to do a little freak out and make sure she understood that the original phone was under a mountain of rubble, I couldn’t pick it up.  She got it then and forwarded our calls.  Cassandra looked at me with surprise and laughter.  The stress seemed to come out of me that day and that poor phone provider received the brunt of my emotions because of what had happened to us. 

We were on the receiving end of generosity that I could never have imagined.  People walking in with boxes of binders, paper, pens, pencils.  We received donations to help us rebuild.  I hope that when people see our office, they think that we were good stewards of their donations. 

It took us almost 3 months (to the day) to get our office stocked and ready to welcome students and tutors.  March 16th was the day that we would be ready to host classes and begin our “rebirth”.  But then a pandemic hit.  The day we were to open was the day that we had to shut down.  Things were just not going our way this year but we were glad to stop in mid step in order to keep everyone safe.  The staff worked from home for almost 3 months and we tried to encourage our students with learning and life. On June 8th we came back to our office.  But it still took us another month to get things in order to safely welcome students.  We’ve had more changes than a support group for menopausal women (only menopausal women can say this)!    

Since we re-opened, things are different but good; slower but satisfying.  Learners are thankful to be back and the learning is happening once again.   It is so nice to hear laughter coming from our classroom.  The thing that amazes me most is that there are no complaints.  I know that there are a lot of people out there who are complaining about restrictions and having to wear a mask but we don’t hear that here. ?  We hear “thanks”, “how are you feeling today”, “I really like this office”. 

As we reflect back on this year, we want to share with you the top 10 lessons we have learned. 

  1. Don’t play with matches 
  2. Take home your secret Christmas gifts as soon as you get them (I was hiding my husband’s Christmas gift at the office and was going to take it home the day of the fire ?) 
  3. There is a North Bay, California so you need to ensure that you emphasize North Bay, ONTARIO. 
  4. Stuff can be replaced but people can’t. 
  5. Our community pulls together when there is a need. 
  6. Kindness matters even when you are tired and frustrated (those poor telephone helpers ?) 
  7. We have a plethora of friends 
  8. Our provincial literacy community is really a small family and they are there to help. 
  9. A new normal can be just as good as the old normal. 
  10. Nothing, not a fire or a global pandemic, can stop learning.           

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