Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order has many area residents finding ways to cope with staying at home, working from home and continuing to work in their essential jobs.

Pritzker’s order requires Illinois residents to stay in their homes and only go out to purchase necessities at grocery stores, gas stations, and drive-thrus and carryout at some restaurants. However, those in health care, emergency response and more are to continue working as they are deemed essential workers.

One such essential worker is Kyle Webb of Dieterich. Webb is a house manager of a group home with Community Support Systems.

Webb said he and his co-workers are rightfully considered essential employees because those with developmental and intellectual disabilities who they service and their families rely on the care that CSS provides.

“I believe the government considers us essential employees because the consumers and their families rely heavily on CSS staff to ensure that their loved ones are being closely monitored,” Webb said. “We are doing this because we care for them and their well being. We are also relied on by families to keep them informed on how their loved ones are doing while staying inside their homes.”

Webb said the CSS staff has been diligently taking the consumers’ temperatures twice a day and have taught them the importance of washing and sanitizing their hands. The staff also reminds the consumers on a daily basis the symptoms of COVID-19.

Webb said since the pandemic has hit Illinois, many changes have occurred in both his work and personal life.

Staff in the group homes must take their temperatures every time they enter a home or a CSS building as well as document their temperature, answer a series of questions and sign a paper. Following in line with several closures around the state, Webb said the Community Day Services building is closed to all consumers and visitors, but staff there are still working.

The CSS administration office is also closed, but staff members are keeping in constant contact with workshops to prepare products for shipment. CSS provides its consumers with opportunities to learn workforce skills. The consumers make products in house at CSS facilities for companies such as Stevens Industries, Wortman Printing and Siemer Distributors.

Webb said some staff members have even volunteered to pick up groceries for the consumers.

Though the daily routines for consumers has been altered, Webb said the CSS staff has worked hard to keep spirits up in the group homes.

“CSS staff and consumers will be going on week two of remaining in their homes. Staff and consumers have remained calm and supportive throughout this past week. Consumers enjoy going shopping, getting sodas, ice cream, attending the Workman complex, attending art classes and several other activities. The consumers are still able to enjoy their sodas and items purchased from the stores. However, it is not the same for them and it’s certainly out of their routines,” Webb said.

“CSS staff have been doing an excellent job at finding activities for our consumers to complete during the day and evening hours. These activities include playing outdoor activities such as ring toss, bean bag toss, and inflatable bowling. Staff have also brought in games, crafts and baking goods to bake.”

Staff has also kept to CSS’s mission, Webb added.

“CSS’s mission is to live, learn, work and play. We have brought our own mission statement to help keep a positive outlook on this situation. We are blessed to be living; we are learning new information on COVID-19 as a group, some consumers have created their own work stations in the homes’ garages to help with production items, and we are playing games and having fun within the homes,” Webb said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced the closure of all schools across the state. Dieterich Junior-Senior High School math teacher Lindsay Burton said she is now utilizing Google Classroom for e-learning for her students.

Burton said with school closing and the inability to teach new material, she has looked ahead to final exams and is sharing review worksheets and virtual lessons online.

Though the e-learning tools have made education accessible to students, Burton said it is still hard not to see her students face to face.

“Not being able to see my students face to face has taken a lot of getting used to. I think losing a big portion of the fourth quarter can be scary, especially with math,” Burton said. “I want my students to know that during this time I am here. I want to help them, and I want to answer any questions that they have. I also want them to know that they can do this, even without meeting face to face.”

Burton said upon the school closing she was initially frustrated to lose instruction time for fear of being behind. She said the staff, Unit 30 School District, students and their families have made the transition to online learning easier.

Burton said the most difficult part has been not seeing her students and the athletes she helps coach in softball. She said she especially feels for the seniors who will miss out on some of their high school “lasts.”

Since students can’t fill classrooms in the coming weeks, many parents have to take on the role of teacher. Burton’s advice to parents is to get to know their children as a student as parents may not know that side of their child.

The inability to work from the classroom has not been all negative for Burton, though. She said she has used this opportunity to work on professional development through training videos, allowing her to grow as a teacher.

When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, Burton said she hopes students will see the value of school and more.

“At the end of this, I hope that students will have a deeper respect for school. I know that there are some students that find this as a fun, extended spring break, but I hope that they realize how important being in school with their peers can be,” Burton said. “I hope that parents realize that they are teachers, too. They always have been, and they always will be. I hope that students realize just how much their teachers, including myself, care about them and care about their success.”

Many students have to continue school work at home, but that does not leave out room for fun, especially in mother of five Kelly Boone’s Effingham household.

Boone, her husband, Steven, and children Sakura, 15, Liam, 14, Seamus, 6, Caelan, 4, and Edward, 3 1/2 months, have been at home for most of the past two weeks as schools have closed. Boone said she has used this time for fun, yet educational, activities for her kids.

“This past week we have mostly been doing fun activities. I taught Sakura how to crochet a couple of things, and she’s pretty decent at making a granny square for a throw. Liam built two solar robots from kits we found at Hobby Lobby,” Boone said. “Seamus and Caelan have spent quite a bit of time with the LEGOs. Next week, we’ll start the more structured school-type days.”

Boone said thus far days when school would typically have been in session have not been too difficult. She said because there’s not school, her family is not on a time crunch; two of her children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and time constraints can be difficult for them.

Boone said her normal routine has not been altered much other than her children are home. Steven works at North American Lighting in Flora and was recently notified he will be off work for at least this week.

As for the shelter-in-place order, Boone said she felt it was the right move.

“I think the shelter-in-place order is a good idea. Maybe it will get more people to see just how serious this entire situation can be,” Boone said. “Liam and I both have asthma, so we are in the at-risk category. If we can avoid most people if we leave the house, we have a better chance of not contracting anything.”

Boone said she does wish there was clearer information about COVID-19 symptoms. She said many people are dealing with allergies at the onset of spring, and she herself has a sinus infection and is just getting over an upper respiratory infection. Boone said if she coughs, she sometimes receives looks from others who may not truly understand symptoms of the virus.

When the pandemic has ceased, Boone hopes people will come out of it with a new perspective on life.

“My hope is this gives everyone the perspective that other people are important and should be cherished (and) also that hygiene is hugely important,” Boone said. “I would like for this to get everyone in the habit of practicing proper hygiene habits, and that will help with spreading even the common cold.”

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

Reporter

Kaitlin Cordes covers Effingham County, police and courts and sports features for the Effingham Daily News. She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University. Cordes is a native of Effingham.

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