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July 22, 2020

Isabelle Bohlken is ready for all of this to be over. The threat of COVID-19 has affected all areas of her life, from her job responsibilities and living situation to her coursework. Nonetheless, she perseveres.

Bohlken is a chef apprentice at the Atriums Senior Living Community in Overland Park. When the stay-at-home order went into effect in March, her employer issued letters confirming staff members were essential in case they were stopped on the way to or from work.

“We called them ‘government hall passes’ and poked fun at it,” Bohlken said. “But then things became more serious. Residents were no longer allowed to eat in the dining room, and they closed the ice cream parlor.” These were two social interactions residents looked forward to each day.

Bohlken explained that due to staffing cuts, there were an average of two servers to deliver food to the rooms of about 200 residents. This put a strain on staff and tested the patience of residents. Bohlken's hours remained the same, but she started earlier because of the extra time needed to package meals in single-use containers.

The frustration and anger displayed by some residents who struggle with change was hard to manage along with the other life stresses Bohlken faced. Before the pandemic, she lived with her family, but because of her mother's pre-existing health conditions that made her more vulnerable to the virus, Bohlken moved in with a friend.

Bohlken has another 18 months of coursework in JCCC’s culinary arts program. During the shutdown she missed hands-on learning in campus kitchens. Allowing students to return to culinary labs to finish spring class requirements was part of the cautious reopening during the summer.

“For the spring semester, I was stuck in ‘class limbo’ because we couldn’t get credit for cooking classes if we didn’t cook.”