Bridging the divide during a pandemic

Teachers get creative and launch picture project in Port neighborhood to combat feelings of isolation, keep children engaged during uncertain times

PORT WASHINGTON TEACHERS Anna Penkwitz (left) and Emily Pfeiffer started a neighborhood activity in the Spinnaker West subdivision, asking residents to display themed pictures and other items in their windows for those passing by to find. It would be difficult to miss the “inspirational words” the women helped place in the window of Penkwitz’s parents home on Nautica Drive Sunday. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

When schools and businesses were shuttered suddenly due to the coronavirus pandemic, people young and old found themselves isolated and yearning for connection.

Port Washington teachers Anna Penkwitz and Emily Pfeiffer decided to combat the isolation so many are feeling with a neighborhood activity for residents of the Spinnaker West subdivision, where they grew up and where many of their students live.

They put together a packet asking all the subdivision residents to place a picture in their window each week. They included pictures that the neighbors could use and also invited them to make or find their own.

The pictures follow weekly themes — silly faces for the week of March 22, encouraging words for March 29, Easter eggs for April 5 and flowers for April 12.

The teachers then asked people to go out and  look for the photos.

“I have quite a few students in the neighborhood and we thought it would be fun to get them out and about,” Penkwitz, who teaches at St. John XXIII School, said.

Pfeiffer, who’s a teacher at Dunwiddie Elementary School, said they encouraged people to hide the pictures so youngsters have to search for them.

“We just want to keep people engaged,” Penkwitz said. “Even though we can’t be physically close, to have that interaction is important.”

“It’s a really cool way to get people out and breathing in the fresh air,” Pfeiffer said. “We know how important it is to get kids outside even if it’s only for 15 minutes or so.”

The women said they decided to run the activity in the neighborhood where they grew up as a way to give back.

“That neighborhood has been such a good area to live in and grow up in,” Penkwitz said. 

Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. One family told Penkwitz that more than 30 of the roughly 55 homes in the neighborhood have pictures in their windows — they know because their children counted.

Their project was lauded by neighbor Mary Becker, who said that it has helped to fight the isolation area residents, particularly older residents, have been feeling.

“It’s so good for people. You feel connected to your neighbors while you participate in this little activity,” Becker said. “They encouraged us to be creative with the pictures, and people have been very creative. It’s really a neat thing.

“It joins us together while we are separated.”

Penkwitz said she hopes other neighborhoods will do the same thing.

“It’s just such an easy, simple way to get involved,” she said.

And, Pfeiffer said, they are considering some twists on the activity in the future, perhaps creating a scavenger hunt or Easter egg hunt.

The women aren’t the only people in Port who are working to bring the community together in the midst of the pandemic.

Teachers at Dunwiddie Elementary School in Port Washington on Monday held a parade of cars through the community, honking horns and waving as they drove past students and parents they haven’t seen for weeks.

At Heritage Health Center and Harbor Campus, senior living facilities on Port’s north side, someone recently snuck onto the grounds in the middle of the night and placed balloons beneath the first-floor windows.

“They showed up between 2 and 6 in the morning,” Tori Klopp, business office assistant at Heritage, said. “They went all the way around the building, even the wings you don’t see from the street. We don’t know who it was, but the residents loved it.”

Heritage also has a box out front where Good Samaritans have left cards for residents, a reminder they aren’t alone even though they can’t have visitors.

And at Harbor Campus, the staff members have written messages in chalk on the driveway at the campus reminding residents that they are important.

“You are my sunshine,” one message read, while another declared “You are loved.”

“We all call each other and say, ‘Did you see what’s written there now?’” resident Judy Meins said. She’s part of a phone tree at the facility, where residents check up on each other daily.

“It’s been hard,” she said, especially since residents have been confined to their rooms for the past week or so. The staff’s been wonderful, she said, but “I really think calling means a lot. We are connected.”  

A number of collection barrels for the Port Food Pantry have sprung up around the city, outside businesses such as Gopher One and Tello’s as well as private houses, and a Little Library on Pierre Lane was recently repurposed as a mini-food pantry.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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