We will always remember the “unprecedented times” of 2020 as being full of challenges. Yet, there are some silver linings to living through a pandemic. From finding the time to explore a new hobby to starting a new business venture, these DC parents and entrepreneurs found joy and success amidst the chaos. Scroll down to read their inspiring stories.
New Ideas Led to New Ventures
When two Maryland Dads unexpectedly found themselves home with their children once their jobs took a hit from pandemic-related closures they knew it was time to get creative. Chris McCasland, a sports and concert industry broker and restaurateur, and Michael Opalski, a senior restaurant industry salesman, wasted little time learning new skills. They put their heads together and founded City Bonfires, a portable, reusable mini bonfire that you can take on all of your outdoor adventures or trips to your backyard. These small bonfires, created from a non-toxic soy wax, are perfect for making s’mores even if you don't own a firepit. Because they are made in Maryland each purchase helps support multiple local families.
We Adapted and Looked Out for Each Other
Child’s Play Toys and Books is well known throughout the DC area for their well-trained and friendly staff. who provide highly specialized recommendations with children’s development in mind. Chief Play Officer and owner Steven Aarons never placed a large emphasis on the stores’ web presence since it is not as easy to provide the same type of personalized advice online, but the pandemic made providing alternative to providing in-person shopping a necessity. According to Aarons, “[w]e had our concierge calls up right away. And we had employees on their cell phones taking customers through using FaceTime, texting images, whatever it required, which we're still doing. This kept both long-time customers coming to Child’s Play and attracted some new customers as well,” ensuring that kids could keep learning and playing with “just right” toys when they needed it the most. This new model meant that Child’s Play not only kept all of their current staff but needed to hire new staff to make deliveries. To fill this need Aarons went to the restaurant next door to Child’s Play’s flagship store in DC and hired servers who had been laid off because of the pandemic exemplifying what it means to support your community when they need it the most.
We Banded Together
Cara Johnson-Graves, who lives in Bowie, Maryland, and her sister Jenae Johnson-Carr founded Epic Everyday with a mission. They wanted to elevate the visibility of mocha-hued boys and girls. They started selling brightly colored backpacks, lunch bags and totes featuring brown and black boys and girls. Once schools closed and travel stopped there was not as much interest in their school and travel collections. The sisters quickly pivoted and created a line of home goods and apparel so they could continue their goal of giving black and brown children more confidence. This move fostered more creativity and resulted in several great new products from hooded towels to sheets. Epic Everyday also joined with other small Black-owned business to help one another thrive during the pandemic. According to Cara “At EPIC EVERYDAY we believe that collaboration over competition is a win-win and promotes meaningful relationships. We have recently fostered new partnerships…from authors to artists, to offer giveaways and manifest a supportive tribe of goal getters.” The last year has proven that representation matters more than ever and Cara and Jenae are inspired to bring their message to even more families and they will be able to do this thanks to recently signing their first retail agreement with a toy store.
We Laughed In Spite of it All
The Great Zucchini, also known as Eric Knaus, has been making DC area children laugh at birthday parties and live performances for a couple of decades. Birthdays and the need for children to laugh did not end when the pandemic started. Children kept getting older and deserved to celebrate so Eric, who is generally low-tech, got a crash-course on Zoom and started offering virtual parties and shows almost right away. Virtual parties meant that more out-of-town friends, cousins, and grandparents could join the laughter. Without the pressures of having to travel, Eric could offer lower-cost online shows so that he could help bring laughter to all kids at a time they need it the most. Eric has also been using his Zoom shows to help kids in the DC area in need. He recently donated all proceeds from a performance to raise funds for an organization that provides books to low-income children and proceeds from another to help a family with two children who both need bone marrow transplants. Eric is currently planning a show for a little fan of his who was recently diagnosed with leukemia to help make getting through treatment a little easier.
We Found the Courage to Try Something New
DC Mom Cassandra Hetherington had dabbled in photography for a couple of years but found the courage to turn her hobby into a business during the pandemic. This year Cassandra had a lot of extra time on her hands to take photographs and think about what is important. Shortly after the pandemic started Cassandra started 51stStatePhotography, a greeting card company featuring photographs from around the DMV. According to Cassandra, “There is something liberating about a pandemic. Suddenly life is upended and you don’t feel scared to try because what’s the worst that can happen? Someone doesn’t like your greeting cards? That felt so scary a year ago but now it feels insignificant.” Cassandra now sells her cards at local markets and Shop Made in DC with no plans to stop once the pandemic ends.
Time for Baking Bread and Remote Getaways
Alexandria Mom Mai Trinh is a Wellness Speaker and Chronic Disease Expert who founded Mai Health Now years ago to help others live a longer and healthier lives. As a widowed working Mom of three, Mai had to shift overnight from being constantly on the go to staying close to home all day, every day. This meant more time with her kids, more time engage in self-care and more time to spend in the kitchen. Although Mai had always made fresh homecooked meals a priority, before the pandemic she had never had the time to perfect longer recipes that require more time and patience like making her own sourdough. Baking bread has now become a hobby that she plans on continuing well after the pandemic ends because “[i]n an uncertain world, baking bread is soothing, soft, warm and predictable if you do it right.” Mai also did not want to give up traveling during the pandemic so she traded in her passport for her car keys and found local cabins and farms where she could bring her children for socially distant weekends away to refresh and relax. Mai says she is grateful for the pandemic for helping her “slow down and find so many remote cabins [she] never would have found otherwise.” She has also discovered more ways to help her clients stay healthy and happy as well.
Milestones Meant More
Lauren Cooper Allen has run two small businesses out of her Washington, DC home for years while caring for her three children. Although she initially worried at the beginning of the pandemic if her businesses would survive both her cake company, Aspen Street Cakes, and her food styling company, Lauren K. Cooper Food Styling and Photography, have thrived. During the pandemic, many parents looked for ways to give their children an extra-special birthday since they could not have the party they wanted. Milestones like anniversaries and Christenings also took on more significance during a year when nothing was guaranteed and everyone needing something to celebrate. Lauren was able to help make DC area families celebrate and smile all year long with her gorgeous custom cakes. Lauren also started receiving more inquires than ever for her food styling and photography business once restaurants closed indoor dining and shifted to take-out delivery. Lauren was able to help local restaurants quickly upgrade their websites and menus. Lauren strongly believes in supporting her local community and offered to style and photograph food in exchange for costs and meals for her family for a couple of restaurants that were on the verge of closing permanently.
Parents are More Resilient
Some parents will remember the pandemic for bringing them a new baby. Michelle Cohen is a Washington DC birth and post-partum doula and yoga instructor who is the founder of Savor It Studios. Michelle has helped dozens of new and expectant parents find a silver lining to welcoming a newborn under less-than-ideal circumstances. Not being able to support new parents in-person has been a challenge for both Michelle and her clients, but because of the forced shift to online support more new and expectant Moms have been able to attend Michelle’s prenatal and post-partum yoga classes. Michelle knows the struggles of new and expectant parents well and has seen first-hand the benefits of virtual yoga for stressed parents when there is “no commute time, no traffic, no struggle to get a baby out the door, no difficulty separating from the family.” Michelle also believes that having a baby during the pandemic will provide parents with experience and skills that will help them as their baby grows. According to Michelle, “[u]ncertainty, fear and worry is always a part of birth, and the pandemic has brought that out into the open so fully, but birthing people now have greater adaptability and can see and feel the strength and resilience that they possess, which are skills they need for parenting.”
—Jamie Davis Smith
featured photo: iStock