Residents overcome pandemic, challenging year with innovation, perseverance and community support.
The global pandemic sent most cities and their economies reeling, as schools and businesses temporarily closed, sports and cultural events were postponed and neighbors kept their distance.>
Some communities, like Oak Ridge, TN, however, faced the challenges of 2020 with a resilient attitude. Cultural organizations found a way for the show to go on, neighbors discovered how a little kindness can make a big difference and business owners found inspiration in innovation.>
“Oak Ridge is very much a bootstrap community,” says Reggie Law, executive artistic director for the Oak Ridge Playhouse, one of the oldest community theaters in the Southeast. “It was built on ingenuity and partnership and community. That’s the whole reason Oak Ridge exists.”
The Show Goes On … Virtually
When social distancing requirements forced the Playhouse to close its doors to live audiences, Law says the theater troupe â€” made up of volunteers â€” was determined to find a way to bring art and culture to the Oak Ridge community. They settled on a videotaped concert of individual solo performances of hit Broadway tunes.
“Singing in groups was a health risk, so we had the idea of having several solo performers. Each soloist would come in, and it would just be the singer, me and the music director socially distanced,” Law says. “We edited them together and streamed the concert on YouTube and Facebook.”
The concert was followed by a socially distanced adaptation of the play “Alabama Story” and a Christmas concert by Nashville recording artist Levi Kreis.
“We wanted to provide some sort of normalcy as best we could, especially for people who missed being able to come out and see our shows,” Law says. “And we wanted to provide some entertainment for the people sitting at home burned out on Netflix. We just felt it was important that we give back in some way to the community that has supported us for so long.”
Running Strong in Oak Ridge
Like Law, Hannah Fatheree, race director for the Secret City Half Marathon & 5K, also felt a compelling desire to give back, especially to the running community in Oak Ridge.
An avid runner herself, Fatheree says she was devastated when some of her favorite races were canceled, which is why Explore Oak Ridge pulled out all the stops to host the annual event with key safety measures in place.
“We limited the number of in-person participants, and we also offered a virtual run option,” she says. “On race day, all volunteers and participants were temperature checked and required to wear a face covering when not running. It was really rewarding to hear from our participants and others in our running community how grateful they were to return to racing, but also that they felt extremely safe and protected.”
Year of the Dogs
Amanda Lovegrove and Leah Hunter, co-owners of The Houndry dog sitting service, were beneficiaries of the community’s support of local businesses in Oak Ridge.
In 2020, amid social distancing restrictions, Lovegrove and Hunter transitioned their sitter service to a dog walking service.
“Our clients were very worried about us. A lot of them are like family, and they kept tabs on us and checked in with us. They wanted to know what they could do to help. That boosted our confidence and let us know that what we were doing was important for our community,” Lovegrove says. “It ended up boiling down to if our clients couldn’t come to us anymore, we had to go to them.”
The business did so well with the new venture that Lovegrove and Hunter purchased a new property for their doggie day care and plan to open a dog park and beer garden. They, too, make sure to give back to the region that supports them.
“We love helping our local homeless animals,” Hunter says. “There’s a lot we’re doing to try and stay involved in our community to make sure they know that we are still here to help. That’s what’s nice about being in Oak Ridge.”
Eager to learn more about living in Oak Ridge? Check out the latest edition of Livability Oak Ridge, Tennessee.