By Mary Ellen Mitchell

Can it be said enough that it’s been a strange year? At Lydia’s House we have nothing to bench mark this against, but we keep on keeping on. Through later summer and into fall we continued to operate our shelter in socially distanced “suites” with kitchenettes and private bathrooms. Meals were largely discontinued while we considered options and scoured the latest updates on the CDC website for where Covid spread was occurring and how to stop it. There were times we felt really low about the lack of community and engagement, and we kept returning to the drawing board to reimagine how to offer meaningful services.
In August a crew of volunteers joined together to build us a lovely outdoor room. Special thanks to Dennis Bishop and Dane Miller and friends for working tirelessly to get this important addition added to our yard. With the new shade and additional mosquito spray in place, we tried to start up meals outdoors. We decided to use each Monday night as a time for prayer, worship and celebration. We invited guests to join us for dinner who had achieved milestones that we might have missed in the spring. One particularly memorable night featured former guest Lashanda and baby A’dore, who we blessed and prayed for. A’dore was a veritable miracle baby, born at 27 weeks with no long term health problems! Her siblings, including the star basketball player in training, are also pretty special. We were so glad to reconnect with this family. In September we welcomed baby Carter to Virginia Coffey place and were grateful to our neighborhood photographer, Juli Thompson, for new baby photos. Around this time we also celebrated the entrance of one of our aftercare families to the new Cincinnati Scholar House. The family was thrilled with their brand new apartment and the opportunity to be supported by the fabulous program while mom goes back to school
We continued to brainstorm new ways to connect with and support families at a distance or in small groups. Our Occupational Therapist Laura rolled out a monthly calendar of Thursday family fun nights and homeschool enrichment. One family requested to do a unit on the underground railroad in their homeschool curriculum, so Honna took them to Underground Railroad/Freedom Center and Laura arranged for a private tour of The Harriet Beecher Stowe House. Other family fun nights included outdoor story times and trips to the pool, which stayed open through September thanks to the benevolence of Norwood’s new mayor.
As October approached we began to prepare to celebrate 40 years of Meridith. While we’d been hesitant to have any large group events, we decided to make this the exception, especially once the Shakespeare Company offered to come do a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the Lydia’s House yard. We put our outdoor room to use, catered in tacos, and brought our blankets to watch the show. Surprisingly, it was the youngest kids who were most mesmerized and stuck with the old English dialogue until the end. Many guests that we hadn’t seen for ages showed up to honor Meridith and many brought gifts. It was a special night.
October also included our socially distanced Women for Women, which to date has raised $49,000! Special thanks to our board president Calista Smith and Maria Krzeski for making this happen, even as our staff was leery of video reflections. Our home liturgy kits were actually very well received and our in house artist, Bethany Kurtz, did an amazing job with the prayer cards of biblical saints in the likeness of modern women of faith and courage. October also included me dislocating my knee and being temporarily out of commission after a harrowing trip in the ambulance to the ER. As always, the community rallied to keep things going and friends from Bellarmine brought meals to my family. It’s good to be held by such a supportive crew!
We continued to offer child enrichment opportunities through the fall including enrolling many kids in Bear Paddle swim school. While not much is available right now, swimming lessons are, and we decided swim safety was a good investment. We also partnered with Upspring to offer an afterschool (or after homeschool) program on Thursdays at Lydia’s House, and carefully coordinated multiple trips to Kings Island to take all of our kids ages 4 and up. We offered Montessori religious education on Wednesday nights to kids ages 3-6, both to the aftercare program and to the neighborhood. We celebrated a few birthdays on the outdoor porch. And we moved a number of families into their own apartments, only to quickly re-fill the shelter with families. Intake demand went considerably up after the unemployment bonus and eviction moratorium ended.
We started November with a family All Saints celebration in our new Nature Playspace, catered by local parish farmers Robert Lockridge and Lyric and Matt Morris-Latchaw. Families in our new religious education program + families from Virginia Coffey Place joined us as Sam Eilerman played “When the Saints Go Marching In” on a keyboard and kids dressed as saints that are special to our community. We named death penalty activist and Catholic Worker Murphy Davis as our saint of the year. Just a week before, Meridith and I gathered with old friends from around the county for Murphy’s zoom funeral, saying goodbye to this lovely and courageous mentor who had introduced us to ideas like solidarity and liberation theology.
Thanksgiving time brought more handwringing as the state of Ohio turned “Red” on national maps. We worked tirelessly with Calista Smith and her mom Janet Harden to create a socially distanced Thanksgiving grab and go. Guests received southern style cooking, carefully and safely packaged, gift cards and additional uncooked food.
As we await Christmas, we’re grateful for the Bellarmine giving tree for providing gift cards for all of our families plus the Kohnen family for buying books and pajamas for each individual in Virginia Coffey Place. We used our child enrichment grant to take each aftercare child out to “$5 Below” to buy gifts for their mom and siblings, so that the family could have hand chosen surprises. We’re once again brainstorming to find ways to engage and some thoughts on the table include an ice skating event, a lantern parade and snow tubing. We’ll see what wins out and if the weather cooperates. Check our blog in January to find out!