#EmiTogether: How June and Mike support their community during the pandemic

This week we have June Usuba and Mike Lashbrook, from Port Huron, MI. June and Mike share with us how their community in Port Huron has been doing during this challenging time, and how they’ve been supporting their community.

June and Mike spent the last 8 years working abroad in Thailand and China. After returning back to the US with their two adopted Thai rescues  Sweep and Sable, they settled in Port Huron and took freelance jobs to spend time traveling and seeing family who live across the globe. They enjoy spending time with their dogs and being active: traveling, sailboat racing, diving, skiing and doing volunteer work.

Tell us how the pandemic has affected you and your community

We are located at the Southern tip of the beautiful Lake Huron. Shelter in Place has been in effect in Michigan from March 24 and extended until May 15. Sadly, Michigan has the highest death rate (9%) in the nation, a large part in the lower income communities of Detroit and Flint. Port Huron has many small and mid-size businesses that feed into the automotive market. There are also many small businesses: from restaurants, cafes, retail shops, farmers, wineries to co-working spaces and an escape room.  A good number of them opened their doors in the last 5-8 years in the historical downtown area. It’s sad to see how some establishments have had to keep their doors closed. At the same time, we see many of the businesses adapting with creativity and resilience: restaurants putting in drive through windows and setting up online ordering, the local escape room hosting virtual games, new Facebook groups to promote all the restaurants that are open for take out, etc.

In light of what’s going on with COVID-19, WFH, and Social Distancing, what are some new routines or rituals that you’ve introduced as a couple?

Compared to many other families, we’ve been “preparing” for this for some time now; Mike and I stepped away from full-time corporate jobs and have been freelancing, and during this time we got used to being at and working from home. We both went back to working full time only in the last few months. With frequent conference calls, we had to create more distance between our “offices” (=desk 🙂 ) in our small 800 square foot home. When we have extended work calls, Mike will “deliver” lunch or coffee to me or vice versa. Of course the coffees are made to taste – I get a frothy cappuccino while Mike prefers simple black coffee, but lots of it.

We are unable to go to the gym together so we started to do longer walks with our dogs, and go bike riding with bikes borrowed from Mike’s parents. When possible, we also enjoy working in the yard together, whether it’s planting vegetables, herbs or flowers; or doing the not so fun activity of pulling weeds and dandelions.

Mike started a new job at an automation company called Esys (JR Automation). He was on a special project to help their client General Motors build a mask production line to provide frontline workers with masks as quickly as possible. The company was able to set up the line in a record time of less than 7 days. I was concerned about him being exposed to COVID at the office so I equipped him with a big air purifier to take to the office. Mike was happy to have an opportunity to use his skill set to help contribute to the COVID response.

What are you doing intentionally to stay sane during this challenging period?  

These days, we want any excuse to leave the house although there aren’t a lot of ‘legitimate’ reasons. If we need to pick up groceries or a take out order, we go together, even if only one of us goes into the store – at least we get to have a car ride. Getting outside for walks with the dogs  and bike rides are a daily must!

There are moments when we feel helpless in the face of what’s happening in the country and in the world. In these instances I try to focus on my job. I am working on setting up a green public equity fund that highlights environmental leaders. Climate change is an issue, somewhat similar to COVID, that if we are not reducing the negative impacts and preparing for, it has potential to cause real harm to our people and economy. I try to remind myself of the importance of my job will eventually contribute to a more safe and sustainable world.

Can you inspire us with something positive that came out of this situation?

  1. Small and cute gestures of care; like the lunch or coffee “delivery”
  2. I take extra care in preparing delicious and nutritious meals to make sure we get our vitamins (especially yummy Japanese meals!) and Mike tries to make sure there are always flowers to lighten up the home office.
  3. We feel closer to our families and friends who live out of state and overseas, with more frequent interaction with video calls. I used to speak to my parents in Tokyo once a week and now I speak to them 3-4 times a week. I speak to my sisters and nieces who are in Switzerland and Denmark, 1-2 times a week. Because everyone is staying home, we get to see my brother-in-laws more often on video and they get to see Mike. We have a blast with my niece Hana using the filters and games on Messenger. I wonder if COVID has improved my sense of humor or made it cheekier. In any case, it has given us the permission to be a bit more silly like wearing costumes on video.
  4. We have been doing video calls with our friends.  Our most recent call was across Port Huron-London-Singapore-Bali, we had a “Toast Off” and had to make artistic and edible toast.

Let us know if there are any initiatives you, your community or your company is working on during this period that you would like to let the Emi community know!

  1. We have been donating to food banks
  2. We are finding new ways to connect. Our friend, Alex Kruglov, is running a start-up ‘pop.in’ that allows you to interact with people through video across North America through simple games (eg, liar’s dice, Hearts). You can also set up a private game with your friends and family. I’ve also seen people feeling really lonely during these times and this app is helping people to connect.  I heard that euchre (a Mid-West favorite) is in the works.
  3. Whenever I do take out, I take a photo and post it on the FB Port Huron Group website to encourage people to support our local restaurants and cafe. The feedback has been amazing. You can tell from the comments that there are a lot of fans out there for the local restaurants and also learn about items you never tried on the menu.  The feeling of community is heartwarming!