Written by Carolina Buitrago, Program Director of Columbia Heights – Mount Pleasant Main Streets

2020 has been an extremely difficult time for everyone. In August of this year, I was out of town for about ten days, and upon my return, I found out that Feia, one of my dogs, hadn’t been eating much and seemed low energy while I was away. I immediately took her to the vet to find out she was really sick, and after talking to the vet about my options, I decided to take her home and have her enjoy her last days as comfortable as possible with me.

Having not worked the last ten days, I knew that after the vet, I would be going to a full inbox, many calls to return, meetings, a job to complete, and knowing that my dog didn’t have much longer to live.

As soon as I got home, I explained the situation to my boss, who was extremely supportive. Many of my coworkers are also dog-owners and were very understanding of the situation, and I was grateful that I was working from home and could spend every second with Feia. My coworkers checked on me constantly and even offered to take tasks off my plate.

I tried my best to focus at work, but every email I opened, every meeting I had, just brought a memory of my Feia. Feia (“ugly” in Portuguese) was a boxer mix that I got as a 2-month-old puppy when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde, West Africa. She was with me for 12 years and moved with me quite a bit; two countries, four states, two road trips, many camping trips, and our favorite; many hikes and beach adventures. In the end, I guess I did keep my promise that “D.C. would be our last move.”

When a small business texted me to ask me something, and I told her I would get back to her the next day and briefly explained the situation, she simply told me to forget about work and asked me for my address and if I was a vegetarian. 20 minutes later, I opened my door to a bag of delicious food that she had sent me. I texted her to thank her and was so moved by her response, “Carolina, we are here for each other, we are a community <3,” and those words have stuck with me ever since.

Another business owner I became close with during quarantine was excited to find out how my time away had gone. I explained the situation, and she immediately stopped by with her daughter to see Feia. We had all gone beach camping to Assateague in June, and her daughter loved both of my dogs. It was a moment of reflection; we had just shared an amazing experience two months ago, and here we were trying to explain death to a 6-year old; both a life lesson for her and myself, and I am SO grateful for her mom having walked us through it.

It was heartwarming to feel that support from what has become my community in D.C. From my coworkers to the business owners I work with, to my neighbors. Most people have a very strict line between their professional and personal life. I have that option with my job, but I prefer to feel that I am part of my community, that some of the people I work with have become my friends, and that I highly enjoy my job supporting some of the most hard-working people I know. I will forever admire the tenacity and resilience of small business owners and will keep working to support them as much as I can. In the end, “we are here for each other; we are a community.”

Picture the things you love most about your neighborhood. What about the small businesses that make our community unique? If you don’t act now, the COVID-19 crisis could irreparably damage the places you love most.  As we begin to understand the cascading impacts the last several months are having on our economy, the resources we rely on to support small businesses will be significantly restricted.

That is why we need your support today to ensure that District Bridges and our Main Street programs will be here for our businesses and community in the coming year.