Optimism, pride, community spirit guided Monroe though a dark 2020

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Drive-by birthday parades, a socially distanced Masuk graduation and Light up Monroe were inventions of 2020.

MONROE, CT — Townspeople weathered a turbulent year in 2020. Monroe is still grappling with the international COVID-19 pandemic that forced schools to go to remote learning and some businesses to close for prolonged periods. Many homeowners took another hit when Hurricane Isaias knocked out power for several days.

But 2020 was also a year of resiliency, from educators quickly coming up with online curriculum plans and town boards hosting meetings via Zoom and GoToMeeting, to the Monroe Farmers’ Market operating with curbside pickup on Fireman’s Field.

“Yes, 2020 was a rough year,” First Selectman Ken Kellogg said Thursday. “But the Monroe community continues to rise to the challenge. Our residents and businesses gave generously to those in need.”

Local organizations like the Monroe Rotary Club made donations to the Monroe Food Pantry and the Monroe CT Residents Facebook group combined donations with events promoting town businesses, such as Monroe Merriment.

“The dedication of our volunteers was more evident than ever: our volunteer EMS and fire departments continued in their service, responding to emergencies while implementing COVID protocols,” Kellogg said. “Food pantry volunteers delivered groceries to seniors. Our CERT members are providing staff at testing and vaccination operations.”

Monroe’s Healthy Helpers was a new Facebook page where residents gather to help those in need and Jenna Linn gathered her friends and fellow Mini Cooper enthusiasts to organize food drives for the Monroe Food Pantry.

Continuing to serve

When access to Monroe Town Hall was closed to the public or limited to visits by appointment only during the pandemic, staff members continued to provide services remotely and a drop box in the police station lobby enabled residents to get documents to departments.

Edith Wheeler Memorial Library hosts online programs and offers a Library-to-Go Curbside service.

Karen Musante, left, took a walk at Wolfe Park with, from left, her grandson Michael, 1, and her daughter, Christy Davis.

“There are many examples of our town staff finding creative and resilient solutions to maintain operations,” Kellogg said. “We even found ways to open our public pool and safely have a summer concert season this summer.”

The Monroe Parks and Recreation Department also found a way to host its summer camp program, along with hosting photo contests and other fun activities online.

“And let’s not forget that our employees agreed to wage concessions to ease the budgetary challenges,” Kellogg said. “I am very grateful, and proud of Monroe — and extend my thanks to our entire team.”

Amid a year of uncertainty during the last budget process, town officials were concerned over tax collections at a time when many lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Police officers, town employees, teachers, administrators and other school district employees made budget concessions to ease the burden on taxpayers, while also trying to avoid drastic cuts to services and education.

In-school, remote, hybrid …

Fawn Hollow Elementary School Principal Leigh Ances escorts incoming students to the entrance on the first day of school.

Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza was serving as acting superintendent in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of Monroe’s public schools.

Administrators and teachers put together curriculum for remote learning and, at the end of the academic year, Masuk Parent Teacher Council volunteers worked with the school system to find a creative way to make graduation day special.

Graduates, their families and friends watched pre-recorded speeches on a live stream from home, before groups meet at Fireman’s Field on Route 111, where families were encouraged to decorate their vehicles for the occasion.

Vehicle processions moved down Route 111, which was decorated with balloons and signs celebrating the Class of 2020. The procession stopped at a stage set up in parking spaces facing the school.

Graduates, wearing their caps and gowns, walked beside the cars, keeping a safe social distance from each other, received their diplomas and walk across the stage, briefly removing their masks for a photo at the podium.

After graduates received their diplomas, they left in their family’s vehicle, exiting the south gate nearest to the JV softball field. Along the way, they saw a parade of well wishes and kind words on signs and photographs. Teachers waved to the graduates as they reached the exit.

The graduating class also received gift bags from community groups.

This school year, students started out with a hybrid model, a mix of remote and in-person learning, with about half of students going to school some days of the week and half going on other days. Now it is all remote until Jan. 11.

Teachers have been doing double-duty, teaching classes live and online simultaneously. Many parents are working from home, while making sure their children are setup for remote learning. And students have sacrificed, with fewer in-person gatherings and activities with friends.

“I’m really proud of our entire school community,” said Kobza, “2020 has been incredibly difficult, but everyone has responded to the constant challenges we have faced.”

Monroe celebrations, events

The sky was pink as the sun set after the Think Pink Palooza ended one evening in October.

Annual fundraisers for events such as the Sprint for Monroe and The Center for Family Justice’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, Speaking of Women and Domestic Violence Awareness Month Vigil were held virtually.

Think Pink Monroe raised awareness of breast cancer, and the Monroe Playground Foundation held several events with social distancing to raise money for the Wolfe’s Den Playground, including an ice cream social and the Light up Monroe contest, featuring a tour of Monroe homes decked out in Christmas lights and decorations.

The creativity of town residents was not limited to fundraisers and community causes.

When people were confined to their homes, Adrienne Stepkoski founded a Facebook group called Monroe Locals Supporting Drive By Birthday Parades, where residents posted photos of loved ones and volunteers arranged birthday parades for them.

Cars were adorned with balloons, streamers, characters, signs and other decorations as the processions drove past the homes of birthday boys and girls (and some adults), cheering, waving, honking their horns and playing music, while bringing joy to the occasion.

The concept quickly caught on and parades were arranged for other occasions. Though their season was cancelled, Masuk High School’s softball team celebrated its four seniors Emily Lange, Madison Procyk, Montana Killoran and Emily Andersen, with parades by their homes.

Other sports teams held similar celebrations and the Masuk Parent Teacher Club arranged for a parade past the homes of members of Masuk High School’s Class of 2020 before graduation day.

Several parades were held to show appreciation to teachers, and to honor fallen veterans on Memorial Day.

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