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Former local family helps Midland flood victims

Tears flow as freely as flood waters for former Spring Lake Township resident Michelle Dombrowski and her family, who suffered through the May 19 Midland dam breaks and recovery efforts.

Dombrowski; her husband, Alex; and daughter Scarlett, 9; moved to the Midland area two years ago. They are now trying to help that community in any way they can.

The family has provided food for hospital staff at MidMichigan Hospital, where Alex works as a radiologist. They helped fill sandbags for neighbors. They provided restaurant food and pizza deliveries, and gift cards to local residents.

The generosity didn’t stop there. Michelle is currently helping in clean-up efforts for another Mid-Michigan Hospital doctor, neurologist Faith Fuentes, whose home was hit heavily by the flooding.

“She’s from the Philippines and has no family here,” Michelle said. “She only has friends from her church and the people she works with to help her.

“The hardest part for Dr. Fuentes was all of the handwritten letters from loved ones she had kept over the years and pictures of family from her homeland, which were both heavily damaged by sewage water and had to be thrown away,” Michelle added. “Pretty much everything was destroyed. Her first and second floors were also flooded and have to be restored. A majority of the homes on her street are going to be homeless due to the high levels of flooding.”

The Dombrowskis fared much better than many other residents. Their home is up on a slight hill. They faced about 6 inches of water in their basement. Their former Midland neighborhood confronted up to 8 feet of sewage water in their homes.

On a Facebook “Mom’s Club” page she started when Scarlett was a student at Spring Lake’s Holmes Elementary School, Michelle posted: “Please pray for us. Two dams collapsed in Midland area, so now we could get up to 10 feet of water and now hospital staff are evacuating patients. God help us! Could things get any worse?”

In a community already struggling with COVID-19 concerns, a 500-year flood struck. Homes floated away. Businesses were destroyed. Lakes formed by the dams are simply mud pits now.

Michelle tried to instill a sense of calm for Scarlett’s sake.

“I knew if I acted scared or showed any fear, that Scarlett would panic,” Michelle said. “I was trying to remain calm. They sent out the first alert at 6 p.m. after I had just made dinner – ‘the dam is in imminent danger.’ Alex knew there was going to be a ton of water coming our way. I just had to keep reassuring Scarlett that we were going to be OK. We’re going to higher ground.”

Scarlett packed items that were important to her – photos of her Midland friends, Spring Lake friends and family.

Like many in the community, the Dombrowskis were ordered to evacuate after the dams gave way. They went to a friend’s house at about 1 a.m. for a short sleep, then returned to their home at 6:30 a.m. to a flooded basement.

“When it’s happening, we’re like, ‘We’ll make it through,’” Michelle said. “You don’t think about everything else that’s going to happen afterward. Now, people are homeless. People are suffering from anxiety and depression. Families don’t know how to provide food for their families. We now have a housing crisis. There are just too many people looking for a place to live.”

The basement flooded at the hospital where Alex works. The city of Midland’s pump stations failed due to the flooding, according to Michelle.

“During a COVID crisis, when you are taking preventative measures against transmission of infection, the staff members of the hospital also had to go outside and use porta-potties for a few days,” she said. “That’s just unheard of, but what else can you do after having such devastation in our community from a 500-year flood?”

That’s why one of the Dombrowskis’ first acts of kindness was to treat the radiology techs and administrative staff to food. Some had recently been laid off due to the COVID-19 crisis, according to Michelle.

Next, she and Scarlett coordinated with a local restaurant to deliver meals to the community.

“Scarlett was so moved by delivering that she wanted to do it again the next day,” Michelle said. “Another restaurant was giving away free pizzas. We delivered them to flood victims. Then we thought, ‘Let’s go get some gift cards at Lowe’s and give them to people closest to us who are really having a difficult time. These are close friends and a lot of them are going to be homeless for months.”

Michelle said national news coverage has faded, but the agony for residents remains. After struggling with anxiety and depression for years, she said she empathizes with them.

“We’re going through a COVID and a flood crisis at the same time,” she said. “It’s overwhelming. I know we will get through this as a family, but I cannot stop thinking about all of these other families every night when I go to sleep. For families to have to worry whether or not they can provide food, water, shelter, clothing, etc., those are the families I worry about. ... I just want for people to know that even in the darkest of times, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to our daughter, Scarlett, and seeking out help with my battles of depression and anxiety, I was able to overcome that dark period in my life from a few years ago.”

Before the floodwaters, Scarlett partnered with Dana Imhoff from By His Grace Calligraphy in Cedar Springs to create cards and stickers to help raise $15,000 to provide a well of clean water for 300-plus people in Africa, through the nonprofit organization Golf Fore Africa. A portion of proceeds from sales of Scarlett’s cards and stickers will be donated by Imhoff to Scarlett’s fundraiser. Scarlett created these cards in honor of her mother and mental health awareness month. To view Scarlett’s cards and stickers, visit: section_id=28740772.

“It would be great if the people of West Michigan could purchase one of Scarlett’s cards to send words of encouragement to those in Midland County,” Michelle said. “A handwritten card from a stranger may give these families a sense of hope and comfort. Seeing people caring about one another is such a beautiful thing.”

Send cards to: Octagon, attention: Scarlett’s cards, 117 E. Main St., Midland, MI 48640.

For those who would like to make additional contributions to help Midland County, visit: www.midlandfoundation .org/fund/floodrelief/.

Teachers reflect on 3 months of remote learning

In his 20 years of teaching at Spring Lake Middle School, Jeremy Thelen developed a definite routine to his school year.

That routine flew out the window when, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his students stopped gathering in his classroom five days a week.

Now that the school year has come to a close, Thelen reflected on the challenges and the successes of stay-at-home learning.

“As educators, we’re social people, and we’re used to communicating in person,” said Thelen, who also coaches the Lakers’ boys soccer team, and has two kids who attend Spring Lake schools. “So, changing to remote learning, we weren’t really prepared for that. I think our staff at Spring Lake Middle School did a good job of adapting on the fly, having compassion for our students and getting information out there, both as it pertains to our subject and also checking in on kids, making sure families were in a good spot.”

Thelen teaches seventh- and eighth-grade social studies. He gave out two assignments per week to his students.

“Usually, they were fact-based questions – watch this short video clip and let me know how you think that affected the Civil War,” he said. “Cite a reliable source and back up an idea – make the kids think a little bit.”

At Spring Lake, students already had 1-to-1 technology devices, which made the process of transitioning to at-home learning much easier.

“We already had enough tech in the district to have a connection with our students,” Thelen said.

And while most of the kids were very familiar with how to use their devices, the teachers had some learning to do.

“I now have my own YouTube channel,” Thelen said. “I’ve screen-casted some of my lessons. I normally have PowerPoint for my class and show them the slides, so I talked over those slides and made a video. We had to learn a little bit.

“At Spring Lake, we’ve done a pretty good job of getting our teachers educated on learning technology, and that was a big help over the last couple weeks,” he added. “I credit Scott Ely, our curriculum director, and Aaron West, my principal. They’ve done a good job preparing teachers. Eric Kippling is our other social studies teacher, so it was great to be able to bounce ideas off each other.”

Brian Williams, who teaches at Grand Haven High School, agreed that the biggest challenge was communication.

“Students and teachers are at our best when we can see each other and we can talk and work out problems as they arise,” he said. “I think some of these small delays via email created anxiety that kids and teachers weren’t used to.”

Williams counts it a success that the teachers at GHHS were able to do an “about-face” so quickly.

“I know this isn’t true everywhere, but in Grand Haven, the learning never stopped,” he said. “We moved forward right away in the best way we knew how.”

Part of that was learning to work with other teachers.

“We did a ton of virtual meetings with our professional learning communities in order to make what we were passing on to our students essential and efficient,” Williams said.

Going forward, there are more questions than answers in regards to what school will look like this fall. Still, the lessons learned since mid-March will go a long way in aiding teachers, and students, regardless of what decisions are made.

“We learned the real value in human relationships,” Williams said. “So many of our students rely on significant teacher relationships to help them navigate high school, and I think everybody now recognizes this in a more significant way. We also learned the value in quality over quantity. We were forced to take a hard look at our content and determine what is absolutely essential.”

Health care
NOCH patients can have limited visitors

The relaxation of the state’s Stay Home order has allowed medical facilities to make some changes to their visitor policies.

As of Wednesday, patients on the medical/surgical floors at North Ottawa Community Hospital can have one visitor per day, according to the spokesperson for the Grand Haven hospital. That visitor must still pass screening to get into the hospital, Jen VanSkiver said.

COVID-19 patients will not be allowed any visitors.

One person can also accompany clients having outpatient care, VanSkiver said.

The hospital’s screening procedures will remain in effect for everyone coming into the facility, including patients, visitors and staff. Everyone entering the hospital will still enter through the front doorway.

Everyone inside the facility is required to wear a mask at all times, VanSkiver said. If you don’t have a mask, the hospital will provide you with one.

Exceptions to the mask policy will be patients entering as emergency situations and people who have a medical reason for not wearing a mask.

Prior to the change, the only exceptions to the visitor policy were a minor being accompanied by a parent or caregiver; a woman giving birth accompanied by a partner; and, if applicable, a doula (a trained professional who provides support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth).

According to VanSkiver, it is up to each institution to set its own policies for visitors.

Access to nursing homes remains unchanged. The local health system’s nursing home, North Ottawa Care Center at Heartwood Lodge, remains closed to visitors, as is the case with all nursing homes at this time, VanSkiver said.

The only exception is the eight-bed hospice unit at Heartwood Lodge in Spring Lake Township, which has its own entrance and is locked off from the rest of the facility. A hospice patient is allowed two visitors per day, VanSkiver said, which has been the rule during the entire state lockdown.

More information can be found at

Public health
Free COVID-19 testing for Ottawa County residents

PARK TWP. — Free COVID-19 diagnostic testing will be made available for Ottawa County residents this weekend.

The testing will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at West Ottawa High School’s South Campus, 3600 152nd Ave. on Holland’s north side. Use the Butternut Drive entrance.

Testing is available for anyone who wants one, even if you have no symptoms. Screening or a doctor’s order are not needed.

There will be drive-through and walk-up lanes. An express lane will be available to those who fill out and print the testing consent forms found at www.miOttawa .org/miHealth.

You must bring a form of legal identification – a state- or country-issued ID; or paperwork with your name and address, bill, mail or paystub.

Restrooms will not be available.

This event helps public health officials identify COVID-19 infection in our community, isolate positive cases and find close contacts for follow-up monitoring.

Some people with COVID-19 do not have symptoms and don’t know they have it. They can continue spreading the virus and can cause serious illness in others. This event will provide testing for them and many others.

“People who live in the 49424 ZIP code (Holland from Lake Macatawa north to Port Sheldon) and those of Hispanic/Latinx ethnicity are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Ottawa County,” said Marcia Mansaray, deputy health administrator for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. “The location of this testing site was selected to help facilitate testing for those groups so we may detect and protect.”

The National Guard will administer the testing. Medical Reserve Corps volunteers and Ottawa County employees will provide support functions.