From embracing a social justice movement to volunteerism and businesses adapting in a pandemic, the many ways New Castle stayed strong!
In June, New York protestors told NBC News that they were fighting two pandemics: the coronavirus and racism. During these difficult times, New Castle residents have banded together to stay #CommunityStrong.
At the foot of the Quaker Road Bridge, there have been local peaceful protests and “parades” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. On June 13, over 100 people committed to sparking change in New Castle attended “A Rally for Change-Stand Up Against Racial Injustice,” an event held by New Castle Against Racism, a group of Horace Greeley students and alumni.
Members of the community created several Facebook pages to combat racism. One, for example, Chappaqua Anti-Racism Dialogue Group: Reconciling Privilege, provides a space for people to educate themselves, their friends and their families, according to the group’s page description.
Additionally, on Monday, August 3, dozens of community members congregated downtown for a peaceful Black Lives Matter march. People marched with such signs as “SAY THEIR NAMES,” “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” and “YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE BLACK TO BE OUTRAGED.”
Also looking to ignite change in New Castle are sisters and former Horace Greeley High School students, Bhavya and Divya Gopinath They collected video accounts from current students and alumni who shared stories about racism they faced within the school district.
They edited the stories into a compilation and sent the video to the Board of Education and Chappaqua Central School District administrators. Said the Gopinath sisters: “It’s easy to turn a blind eye to this and say that racism doesn’t exist in this privileged community, so we made this video, so the stories don’t go unnoticed.”
These efforts to combat racism in New Castle will continue to strengthen this community.
Chappaqua Central School District Superintendent Christine Ackerman sent an email to all members of the district that said, “The events described by our former students are appalling and illustrate why we must continue to take meaningful and deliberate action to effectuate change to address racism in our society. We understand there is a gap between our espoused values and current reality. We are committed to change.”
Bhavya and Divya Gopinath also received an email from Board of Education President Victoria Tipp on behalf of the Board of Education. The Board authorized the formation of a Community Advisory Committee on Anti-Racism, Equity and Social Justice to enact change in the district.
“We believe that these steps will make a significant and positive difference, and we are committed to seeing these actions through as we keep social justice at the center of our work moving forward,” said Ackerman.
Simultaneously, Chappaqua residents have been coping with the coronavirus pandemic and the challenges that the virus presents. However, throughout it, small businesses, families and individuals have found ways to stay strong.
“In over 13 years of business, we have never faced a more challenging and uncertain time as this past March. What kept us strong was the commitment and passion of our team and the loyalty of our patients. In a matter of days, we were able to pivot the practice to Telehealth,” said Matt Marucci of New Castle Physical Therapy & Personal Training. “This took persistence and ingenuity on the part of therapists and patients alike. We are up and running now with stringent COVID-19 precautions, but we continue to offer the Telehealth sessions we developed back in March. We are deeply grateful for all of the community support we have received during this challenging time.”
Another local business trying to provide access to physical activity while also staying safe is Armonk Tennis Club/Armonk Indoor. They modified their protocols with the safety of their clients as their top priority.
“We at Armonk Tennis Club and Armonk Indoor Sports Center realized soon into the quarantine how important sports are to our physical and mental well-being. As summer approached, we knew that people would want to get active again but in a safe manner. The rules and guidelines we implemented showed our tennis players and campers that their safety is our top priority, and the result has been a great summer. We understand that procedures must be modified in the fall as people come indoors, but we’re still excited about providing a safe environment for the community to learn, play, and compete in,” said Armonk Indoor representative Beau Shea.
Ultimately staying safe is a priority for many businesses. Bill Flooks from Beecher Funeral Home said that despite all the special challenges, “We have managed to get this far with Covid-19.” On behalf of the Flooks Family, he stated: “Keep up the good work, be smart, be prudent, be safe.”
Several area photographers including Donna Mueller, Carolyn Simpson and Randi Childs are still bringing smiles to families’ faces through the acclaimed #TheFrontPorchProject.
Local chambers throughout the area have been sharing news from the county regarding federal and regional grant and loan options, about available personal protective equipment (‘PPE’) and producing e-newsletters to the community in which businesses post their services. The Chappaqua Millwood Chamber most recently launched ‘New Castle Restart’ to fundraise for grants to small businesses impacted.
Additionally, during the spike in the number of coronavirus cases in Westchester County, community members banded together and rose to the occasion. Individuals and groups made masks for essential workers, those on the frontlines and the immunocompromised. A series of articles for theinsidepress.com spotlighted these extraordinary efforts.
There was also never a shortage of pizza and other welcome meals distributed to front line health care workers at local hospitals and to first responders thanks to an extraordinary response to a Chappaqua Moms fundraiser.
The Food Pantry at the Community Center of Northern Westchester donated over 7,400 pounds of food and necessities to those in need since late March according to Reverend Martha Jacobs, Senior Minister at the First Congregational Church in Chappaqua.
To stay community strong during the thick of the coronavirus pandemic, people searched for ways to help.
“I am deeply grateful to serve such a caring and engaged community as ours. While we clergy are used to checking in on our congregants, I have been humbled by the number of congregants who have turned the tables and reached out to inquire how we staff members are holding up,” said Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester Jonathan Jaffe. “Similarly, we were overwhelmed with offers by individuals seeking to volunteer and help in any way possible. Such moments underscore the sense of covenantal relationship within our community.”
Smart, Agile Community
New Castle Town Supervisor Ivy Pool is impressed by the leadership she has seen both at town hall and among the residents.
“New Castle is a smart, agile community that has time and again demonstrated our leadership in a range of areas. The coronavirus cluster that occurred at the HGHS graduation and related events was a wakeup call for all of us. To defeat the outbreak, we needed to come together as a community and double-down on our social distancing efforts and enforcement,” said Pool. “The outbreak didn’t happen just anywhere–it happened in New Castle, a community of leaders and achievers who were determined to do something.”
Determined to stop the spread, Pool and the rest of the town board passed the first local legislation in the state that required people to wear face masks whenever social distancing is not possible.
“With this new law in place, our police officers have a tool to enforce social distancing, and our community has responded beautifully to our calls to “mask up!” said Pool. “Coming together in the face of adversity is who we are; leading by example is what we do. We are #CommunityStrong.”
It is really difficult to wrap your head around a silver lining when there is so much suffering across the world right now. Not only are people sick and dying in record numbers, but there is devastating economic loss, an increase in domestic violence, streets are filled with rioting and police brutality, the critical use of masks has been politicized, and on and on and on. I will leave consideration of those issues to others because my expertise is around self-care, which has become more important than ever in the face of the illness and adversity we face on a daily basis. In addition to boosting our immune system and staying active, it is equally important to monitor our mental health in this time when so many are experiencing sadness and isolation.
So, I am wondering are people more inclined to take care of themselves during this time?
Based on working with clients and responses from my “Mindful Moms” Facebook group that I surveyed on this topic, it appears that self-care routines are directly influenced by how many others in the house need attention. Moms of young children who require home schooling and entertaining have little time for themselves. Their responses reflected the all-encompassing demands on their time: “Everything is a mess, no routine, stress, no privacy, no motivation, no ability to attend virtual events–being home with everyone is a giant whirlwind with no structure.” The situation is especially difficult for teachers and others working from home. Some of my clients described feeling trapped with no end in sight. Self-care is not an option for them right now.
However, moms with older and adult children seem to be up-leveling their self-care routines while enjoying the added and unusual bonus of having their kids with them at home. The trend seemed to be difficulty with self-care at the beginning of the pandemic, with the onset of isolation, sadness, and fear together with eating and drinking too much, baking a lot, and mourning the life of freedom that we used to enjoy.
However, as time went on, so did the ability to find new healthy routines, such as walking, biking, online workouts, cooking healthy food, taking new classes, and obtaining certifications. As time passed, women experienced more sleep, less rushing, meditation, self-reflection, and added skills, like doing their own hair and nails. People also enjoyed reconnecting with family and friends, and as my mother, who typically dines out every night said, reconnecting with her kitchen appliances.
There have been many stages to this quarantine, from wiping down every grocery item to wondering if our kids will ever go back to school, and everything in between. While it is easier for some of us to adjust to new ways of living and caring for ourselves, even calling it “the season of self-improvement,” others feel stuck, fearful, and isolated, finding it more difficult than ever to motivate them.
We are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.
While self-care remains vital during these challenging times, it means different things depending on one’s individual situation. It is critical that we do not compare ourselves to others and that we indulge in serious self-compassion because all of us are suffering in this moment. The key is to be kind to yourself and honor everything you are able to do during this time. As Don Miguel Ruiz says in one of his Four Agreements, “Do the best you can,” even if your best is just 20 percent at the moment. Honor and respect what you are experiencing, feel your feelings, and please don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it. May you be happy, healthy, and safe, may you live with ease, and may this s— show be over soon.
The following was written on April 13, 2020, as an FYI, and edited here for publishing clarity. Three plus weeks later, the feelings are pretty much status quo, although I’ve settled into more of a routine, which helps. Like many, I imagine I’d be in a state of acute despair without Governor Cuomo’s daily briefings or summaries.
I simply wish to bear witness to my personal experience as a Single American, Empty Nest mom staying home solo and doing my best to follow the new COVID-19 rules.
My 23-year-old son lived with me for Month 1 of ‘all this.’ Renewed bonds, his humor, mine too, all helped ease the transition to this ‘new way.’ I loved having him here, in fact, after two plus years since starting empty nest in earnest (that is, post his graduation from college when he moved into the city permanently).
It may appear at first glance that I rescued him bringing him home to the burbs after he developed mild symptoms, got diagnosed as positive with COVID-19, and recovered here, but I know the truth now.
A certain household structure of cooking and meal preparation is comforting and calming. Permission to and the ability to take care of a loved one are absolute gifts, too.
Please never take any of that for granted, ever, not for a minute.
This one is for all the single people living in what boils down to, what is amounting to, a stretch of house arrest.
But ok, without the ankle bracelet.
Yes, social media and FaceTime calls with kids, family and special friends help. It has been especially heartening to keep up with my daughter almost daily as I had been feeling we had grown apart. She has taught herself new skills, and I’m planning on blaring about them soon too, if she’ll let me.
Yes, absolutely, a Zoom meeting or the sometimes seemingly infinite number of fitness or meditation classes and musicians and entertainers and political/educational forums online breaks things up and absolutely does help with motivation or to keep spirits up.
I’d have been lost for a stretch without private stretching/exercise sessions with a therapist from New Castle Physical Therapy for a back-related issue.
Laughter has been key to so many getting through this, so trust me that all the funny online posts in goofy Facebook groups or from all the self styled comedians out there are amazing lifelines for me, too.
I marvel at all the ingenuity and entrepreneurship and ponder the transforming future of where we will all land in the realm of real time versus virtual time.
Still.. I spend a lot of time online for my work, so I look forward to getting off line… so there’s that. Ultimately, online communication is not like having humans in proximity in your home-whether it’s hearing the sound of a voice or seeing the gleam in someone’s eye. If you are a people person, which I am, by and large, the absence of ‘actual’ time together is felt deeply.
If you don’t own a pet, which I don’t anymore (a long story for another day, perhaps), yes, it’s far worse than that.
I hear a lot: “I can’t imagine not having my dog through this (or dogs, or cat, or cats).”
Well, imagine it. Many single people do not have pets for a variety of reasons. At this juncture, I don’t have a pet. Not even a fish. And that is that, too. I am not looking for leads on getting a pet, so please, dear reader, do not go there. It actually hurts for you to. I’m fully aware of the options, and let’s just say, it’s complicated.
For me, all I know is that today is Day 10 of alone during COVID-19. For many, it’s well into the 20s, 30s or even 40 plus days. I contemplate the continued impact of long-term isolation.
Whether it’s your kid’s groan when you tell him to get back to his homework, or your spouse or significant other yelling out, “What’s for dinner?”, please don’t underestimate the value and comfort of a voice that’s in proximity to you. I wonder: Will I settle into isolation? Will it get easier? Harder? Impossible to bear?
I am a person who considers my mental health as intact, stable as she goes. But anxiety is taking hold now, and I’m keeping a variety of toll-free numbers handy.
The days are much easier than the nights. I am intensely grateful to live where there are many neighbors in proximity, at least. I take my near daily walk for the people and pet visuals, for the dose of Vitamin D, too. The sun sustains me like nothing else. I appreciate even a wave from six feet away at the occasional neighbor, or even someone’s puppy or dog wagging its tail.
Neighbors’ eyes sparkle and even the wrinkles surrounding them ‘speak’ to me from above the bridge of a nose and circumference of a mask. If they are not wearing masks, I keep my distance, wave anyway, and pray they simply stay safe, too.
I like getting into my car for the reminder of the old normal as I set about to perform only the most necessary errands. I gratefully take in the ‘hum’ and ‘sounds’ of the market, or at the pharmacy, too. Those fill the soul some, too.
When night falls, a certain fear takes hold, a sense of vulnerability that’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s when all these feelings of aloneness peak. Watching TV, binge watching especially, helps a good deal. I mourn the end of any good series! When I turn the net and TV off, though, it’s me again, and… the pockets of dark space. I’ll slog through some darkness, contemplate the dishes in the sink, but usually choose to leave them for the morning. I try to reduce the night hours by going to sleep as early as possible. Sleep is a bit of a messy affair, too, also the subject of a future post.
I won’t venture too much here into the lack of touch or intimacy and the total weirdness of virtual dating, or rather, foregoing virtual dating, for the most part. For reasons also best left to another column, perhaps, I will say I don’t feel this is the time to embark on new romance, either. For personal reasons, I wasn’t necessarily ready for new romance before COVID-19, and I don’t believe that has changed. If anything, those feelings are exacerbated. Still, I’ve always been in the never say never school, too.
I don’t want pity, but compassion and understanding are great. I don’t need advice or suggestions either. Or maybe I do. I don’t know.
I understand my feelings are unique too, and not universal. An old friend, similarly alone, is not experiencing it this way at all, and even expressed a comfort level with the isolation, so go figure. She describes herself as perhaps always having been an introvert and that somehow ‘all this’ is suiting her. I would describe myself as more of an extrovert (although a shy one, too, in a way, as contradictory as that may sound), so perhaps we are hit a bit harder. Then again, I always loved my alone time, too, but by design. And choice. So, again, I don’t know.
I am not writing this to compare pain and painful situations. The tragedy is devastating and on some days, beyond all comprehension. The disease has hit terribly hard taking tens of thousands of lives across the country, hundreds of thousands across the world, and threatening the health of family members, roommates, as it devastates nursing home residences, in particular. Prison populations have also been horribly impacted. And so on. Solo in my otherwise comfortable suburban pad is certainly also better than any domestically violent situation in any socio-economic circumstance.
And yet, what I want to convey, is that pain is relative, and that the pain here is real for me, too.
Human beings are largely social creatures. Our souls are tested, and I believe shrink in any prolonged isolation. I want to erase the stigma too that anyone weathering this solo is similarly feeling. I know that I’m not alone with these feelings, and that they are widespread.
And yes, yes. I am still counting my blessings to be alive and healthy. I was never going to even share these words as I worry they may sound somewhat self indulgent or morose. But then again, if a pandemic is not the time to feel those things too, then I don’t know what is. You are welcome to search elsewhere for inspiring and uplifting right now. I have tried to keep busy sharing all the drama and news I possibly can through this press on a most limited budget. I have plenty of work to do to make sure my 17-year-old business survives COVID-19. I’ll overshare too that it can feel like wading through molasses. I go through all the steps I’m advised to take as a small business and wait for those to bear fruit. And wait. I have rooms and a garage I promised myself I could declutter now, but somehow, paralyzed to, since that feels like the ultimate solo punishment.
I write this simply to self-express (that helps me, so forgive me if my oversharing causes you any discomfort). Finally, I share also to express that I do feel empathy for everyone weathering this storm. My heart goes out to all of you, to those single and to those in semi full or very full houses (maybe we can trade places for a day?) and all your own unique challenges. And yes, I must believe that we too can get through this, #AloneTogether, and #NewYorkTough. Or when you’re not feeling so tough sometimes, too.
Dr. Jennifer Ashton from ABC News & GMA Shares her Experiences with Mental Health and Suicide at the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center
We need to start looking at mental health and mental illness no differently than we look at physical conditions.
On Sept 26th, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, Ob-Gyn, ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent and Good Morning America (GMA) Medical Correspondent, met with members of our community to discuss her recently released book Life After Suicide: Finding Courage, Comfort & Community After Unthinkable Loss.
Westchester Mental Health Association (MHA) Board Member and mental health advocate Sean A. Mayer, who lost his brother to suicide several years ago, joined Dr. Ashton for this discussion; the latest in an ongoing series MHA has developed to educate the public about mental health.
The loss of a loved one to mental illness leaves unimaginable devastation. Ashton experienced this loss first hand in 2017. She pointed out that same year, over 47,000 Americans died by suicide. It is estimated that for every person who dies by suicide 135 people are directly affected. That means over 6 million people are impacted every year. Despite the enormity of this issue, she still felt very much alone.
Ashton and Mayer spoke of sadness, anger, guilt and how one is never prepared for suicide. Ashton’s world seemed to fall apart; she used the metaphor of a plate shattering to describe how she had felt. She was baffled by questions like: What did I miss? Was this my fault? She recalled others remarking: How could this happen; everything looked perfect? What is important to realize is that mental illness and suicide are complex issues and often not a reflection of what is seen on the outside.
As a survivor of suicide, the last thing Ashton wanted to do was to defend the father of her children during this difficult time. Suicide is misunderstood; many think of it as cowardice and selfish. She pointed out that it takes the antithesis of cowardice to take your own life. People who have attempted suicide explain that they were doing it for other people. They feel that they are a burden; that those they love would be better off without them. Mayer offered a helpful explanation that what people don’t realize is that the victim just wants the pain to end. People can’t wrap their brains around that, but it’s not selfish.
Ashton was proud of the emotional maturity with which her children viewed their father’s death. Her children felt their dad “had a disease like cancer and it killed him. They wouldn’t be angry with someone who died of cancer so how could they be angry with him?” They did not go down the “anger road,” and so she didn’t either. “When you think of mental illness as an illness no different than cancer, it certainly reframes it.”
Mental health and wellness should be looked at with equal importance to physical disease. Ashton referred to the phrase “check up from the neck up” and asked the audience when the last time their health provider inquired about their mental wellness? Similarly, she wonders how often friends and family inquire? “Until we (ask these questions) we are not going to accomplish as much in terms of prevention as we need to, to save people’s lives.” Ashton warns.
“If you have high blood pressure most people don’t have a problem taking a pill or going on a behavioral regiment to treat that. If you feel anxious, depressed or hopeless, there is help available… but we don’t ask for it…. Why? Because we look at it as a weakness. That must change.
We need to look at mental illness like depression and anxiety no differently than cancer or heart disease.”
Our Youth at Risk
Children, teenagers and young adults have poorly developed frontal lobes in their brains; judgement is not their strong suit. Hence, pediatric and adolescent suicides tend to be impulsive whereas adult suicide is often more methodical. Not only do children and teens have a biological explanation for their impulsivity but they also do not have the life experience to provide context to emotional distress. In addition, social media has opened a huge can of worms for the younger generation; cyberbullying is a big issue. We live in an increasingly complicated world. Awareness and support for those of all ages is needed now more than ever.
The strategy of not talking about suicide so the kids don’t find out about it is about as effective as not talking about sex and substance abuse. It’s not going to work to sweep this under the rug.
Lessons in Healing
Two mantras have been helpful to Ashton throughout the healing process: “If you resist, it will persist” and “If you want to heal you have to feel.” Ashton has reevaluated her focus on perfection, strength and accomplishment. She still wants to achieve her goals, but has learned that accepting flaws and allowing herself to feel pain, weakness and failure is what has enabled her to heal. Ultimately, the only option Ashton had was to glue the ugly, flawed pieces of her life back together. Ashton feels her “plate” is stronger now. She is still picking up the pieces, but she is no longer focused on external appearances and she knows she will be ok.
How Can You Help?
Open discussions like this are important in the fight against mental illness and suicide. Increased awareness is making a difference. Last year, New York State became among the first states in the nation to require schools to include mental health instruction in the K-12 health curriculum. Schools are now mandated to teach students skills they can use if they are facing a mental health issue or what to do if another student needs help.
Getting ahead of this mental health crisis is going to require a lot of compassion and nonjudgement. The stigma associated with mental illness is a huge barrier to the resolution of this highly treatable issue. Local resources, like the Break the Hold (BTH) Foundation of Pleasantville, are making strides by providing safe and accessible resources to those who need them. We know how to recognize and react to someone with asthma, allergies and many other medical concerns. Similarly, we need to arm everyone, including kids and teens, with the knowledge of how to identify the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and the skills to help someone in distress.
Special thanks to BTH (bthbreakthehold.org), MHA (mhawestchester.org) and The Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health (mentalhealth.westchestergov.com) for their work to reduce the risk of suicide in our communities. National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK, or text 741-741.