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The City Journals

Hope, gratitude and connection: Sugar House residents reflect on 2020

Jan 05, 2021 02:35PM ● By Drew Crawford

Faced with challenges and despite having to limit their interactions to virtual, Sugar House residents have taken advantage of the extra time they had to accomplish long standing goals, open businesses and grow closer to others. (Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash)

By Drew Crawford | [email protected]

2020 has been a year filled with unprecedented difficulty and suffering. At the time of this writing the positive test rate for Utah COVID-19 cases is at a record high, and many will spend the holidays alone without their loved ones. 

Being in public is risky, and all of us most likely know somebody who has gotten sick. 

It’s hard to stay focused on the blessings of daily life. The media is filled with stories about new and shocking information about overwhelmed hospital capacity. If you scroll through your newsfeed on Facebook or Instagram countless memes appear that poke weary fun at people’s failed expectations for the year. 

It’s no understatement to say that many people wish that they could start 2020 over or fast forward to when the vaccine produced by Pfizer is available to take. 

Throughout all of the change and gloomy difficulties, it can be hard to appreciate what makes us collectively hopeful and look for the silver lining. 

However, this is exactly what multiple Sugar House residents have done. 

Faced with challenges, they have taken advantage of the extra time that they have had to accomplish long standing goals, open businesses and grow closer to others. 

Their strength and resilience are an inspiration for anyone who is looking for a bright moment to share with a loved one when daily life grows too overwhelming. 

An unexpected virtual friendship at a 2,000-mile distance

Dodie Fraughton has always had a passion for being around children, who she considers to be positive and upbeat. After retiring as a fifth-grade teacher at Highland Park and Uintah Elementary she has volunteered as a tutor, helping with homework and difficult concepts. 

When the nationwide lockdown happened in spring and school went virtual, Fraughton was contacted by Volunteer Match, a volunteer organization, with a unique opportunity. 

“I volunteered to tutor a third-grade student in the Bronx who was struggling,” Fraughton described. “He can’t be in school because of COVID, so we meet twice a week on Zoom to do homework and read together.”

At first Fraughton was hesitant to take the opportunity because of the virtual nature of the instruction, but over time she has come to love her student, and she now has a new best friend. 

“It’s just been great for both of us. He’s got cats that he loves to show me, and I’ve got a dog and some fish in the pond out back. He always asks to see the dog and the fish at the end,” Fraughton said. 

“He is just the most delightful young man and works so hard. I really want to keep track of him and see what he ends up doing.”

One of Fraughton’s favorite parts of her relationship with her student is how much he has taught her. 

“I had to learn how to share my screen and how to use the whiteboard. I learned from him. He has shown me the way,” she explained, describing a new method of solving an arithmetic problem that he showed her. 

The relationship that the two share is incredibly friendly and has become much more than a 45-minute tutoring session. After seven months of working together the student frequently asks if he can meet more times with Fraughton throughout the week and shares jokes and stories about his weekend trips on the subway.

“The great thing about it is that people that are stuck at home, it gives them something to do. It’s a win-win situation for both,” Fraughton said. 

She recommends that anyone struggling with loneliness right now should seek out safe opportunities to volunteer. 

“It’s such a great idea because it really gets you out of yourself, and it gets you something to look forward to and it makes you feel useful,” Fraughton said. “It’s been a real lifesaver for me because I look forward to these hours during the week.”

Taking risks to open a new business and fulfill a labor of love

After working in jewelry repair and custom jewelry on the wholesale side for the last nine years, Brent Craig had an itch to return to customer facing interactions. 

When he recognized that this is what he wanted to do, he started to look for the right location to open his jewelry shop, Timeless Design and Jewelry. 

Craig’s search ultimately led him to Sugar House where he found an attractive location at 900 South and 352 East in mid-January. Leasing negotiations lasted for a few months, and the final details were hammered out before signing the contract two weeks before the national lockdown. 

Over the next couple of months there were a lot of logistical challenges. Craig spent the next six months balancing the demands of fulfilling custom orders to generate income, while also preparing to open his store. 

Due to production line issues the glass and iron used to make cases in the store took a long time to be shipped and installed. Eventually, the June opening that he had originally planned on ended up being delayed until the fall. 

There were many opportunities for Craig to be frustrated with the delays, but he managed to take everything in stride and see the project through to completion, with his store opening a few weeks ago. 

“We hit a couple of roadblocks throughout the whole process, but we were just like, ‘What’s the next step, what do we do?’” Craig said. “Eventually we got all the jewelry and everything in here in that September to October range and got everything to the place where I liked it.” 

Reflecting back, Craig jokes, “Don’t open a business during coronavirus!” But he tenaciously recounts what it took for him to get to where he is at now. “Honestly, the biggest thing was just the challenge through adversity: being able to go from one day to the next, and not be buried by problems, but try and just find the solutions to those problems the best way that you can.” 

One of the difficulties that stood out to Craig was building a custom ring for an engagement, despite supply change issues. 

“I had a gentleman who was needing to get a ring made for his son in late April, so that his son could propose to his girlfriend,” he said. “They had a diamond that they wanted to get. I was able to find that diamond, but that company had a breakout of coronavirus and they were not able to actually get in there and ship it out.”

Through searching, Craig was able to find a vendor in California that carried the diamond, and his client arranged for it to be delivered to him through a business associate. 

“It takes a village to make everything happen, and I think that really applies to the business here as well,” he says, reflecting on the dedication and support that he has received. 

“It takes the village that got us from the concept of the idea to actually being able to open up our doors. It’s really exciting.” 

A real estate license and an imaginative children’s book 

When instruction for schools went virtual in March, Katie Ferriello a physical education teacher at Northwest Middle School, found a lot more time on her hands to pursue goals that had previously been hard to fit into her schedule.

Ferriello was able to take the 120-hour course to get her real estate license in June and spent lots of time mountain biking with her husband. 

Her proudest accomplishment has been waking up early every morning during the time that she would usually commute to work to write a middle school story about a time traveling special-needs class. 

“I’ve been in the [League of Utah Writers] since before I moved here, but I never really sat down and dedicated time to writing. I just dabbled before,” she said. 

Ferriello has been able to spend a lot of her free moments thinking about her book that draws inspirations from “Harry Potter,” “The Amazing Race,” as well as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). 

“It’s about a sixth-grade class. They have a teacher who doesn’t like working with them and is pretty nasty. They come back the next year, and instead of that teacher being there they have another teacher who I’m calling ‘Mr. Ridley,’ at this point, and they slowly learn that he’s part of a time travel league,” she described.

Ferriello feels that her book, which is now at a length of 35,000 words, would have shaped up differently if it wasn’t for the restrictions of COVID-19.

“I had a little bit of the concept swirling in my brain for the past year, but I didn’t really have any ambition to sit down and actually set it on paper,” she said. “Even if I found time for it outside of what’s going on with the pandemic, like if it was two years from now and everything is back to normal and I decide to write it, I don’t know if I would have written it the same way,” Ferriello said. 

“When you have so much time, and you’re spending time by yourself, and you’re alone it gives you room for your imagination to think,” she said. “Once I’m done with work for the day I’m just thinking of little fun details I can include in the story.”

Forging renewed bonds of trust and indispensable relationships with the community 

At the beginning of the year, Stacey Breidenstein took a few months off of work as the store manager of Natural Grocers to heal a broken foot. 

Over the next few months she went to yoga and meditated to aid in her recovery. Investing large amount of time into self-care paid off. By the time that the COVID-19 restrictions went into effect Breidenstein was in a prime position to oversee her staff as they grappled with the challenges of being essential workers. 

“My staff did an amazing job of doing what they do, being kind and compassionate, and working their tails off,” Breidenstein said.

“I think that when we’re faced with challenges your fight or flight sometimes kicks in. You can choose flight or panic, or just really retreating, or you can choose resilience and pull out all of the coping mechanisms that you have learned. That’s what I had to do running the store, because I have a lot of people that are my employees that I care deeply about that rely on me and look to me to be the leader in the storm—to be the general,” Breidenstein said.

Helping provide her customers with food and supplies during the pandemic has really been a humbling experience for her. 

“It brought to me personally so much gratitude. What I found is that when you’re grateful for having toilet paper, having these basic things, when you see around the world people are really in desperate need. You reflect back on the fact that we wake up in the morning, turn on the lights, and we have electricity,” Breidenstein said. “When I could come back to everything that I had, even though we have to wear masks, it’s difficult, we don’t see our friends or do the things we used to, we’re still so blessed beyond belief.”


Breidenstein made sure to implement safety protocols in her store early on to create an environment where the community felt comfortable while shopping. This enabled her staff to be able to continue creating relationships with the community during the height of its struggle. 


“We’re a community gathering spot. We provide food, a place to help people pick out immune support supplements and make sure they have their vitamin D and elderberry syrup and vitamin C,” Breidenstein said. “In myriad ways we’re serving the community. I serve my staff; they serve the community.”


The greatest lesson that the pandemic has taught Breidenstein is how fragile our systems are and the importance of relying on others. 


From connecting with moms in the community who are having a difficult time home schooling, to having Sandy Cummings of Cummings Chocolate deliver a gift basket of handmade chocolate for her staff, there have been plenty of moments where she has seen her community grow stronger. 


“I think when you can just be present for people—that’s been the greatest thing.”


A new job opportunity and a fresh outlook on life


This year was both the worst and best year for Sierra Lynne. Plans that she had to buy a house with her long-term boyfriend fell through, and the dance studio that she worked at temporarily closed. 


Over the next few months Lynne had to sacrifice her long-standing ideas and open herself up to new possibilities. It was particularly hard with chronic anxiety depressive disorder. She had headaches every day, and oftentimes her medication did not work. Employment at the dance studio became tenuous as well. 


“With the pandemic it just kind of brought out the best, but also the worst in people. With that I kind of saw a different side to the business that I was working for and realized that they weren’t as genuine as they appeared to be,” Lynne said. “They didn’t care about people the way that they said they did, and if it weren’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t be able to see that.”


In October, Lynne tested positive for COVID-19. Due to preexisting health conditions, it took her longer than others to recover. She decided to cut ties with the dance studio and started looking for another job. 


“At first, I didn’t know where I was going to go, or what I was going to do. I was lost. I just looked for anything. I searched for about three months and had a whole lot of interviews. I didn’t think that I was going to get anything, and while I had COVID, I got a call from my new employers and they said, ‘We want to hire you and work with you.’”


Lynne knows that she has made the right decision with taking her new job in business operations and feels that it is her most favorite place that she has been employed at. She has learned countless things about her mindset and has been able to empathize with the suffering of others. This has helped her to understand that she isn’t alone. 


“There’s some limits, but really if you just don’t close your mind off, there’s no limits,” she said, elaborating on how this realization has enlightened her. “If the world is OK, then I can be OK too.”


A cookbook with recipes from Utah’s past 


“I’m a cookbook nerd. I pretty much own every cookbook ever written,” Jordan Miller, a professional chef at Victory Ranch in Park City, said. “You can talk to my wife and she would confirm that. I have a cookbook problem.”


Miller has been a chef for a couple of decades and sees the trends that come and go in the world of cooking. His long-term desire has been to produce a cookbook that focuses on recipes that are unique to Utah and its history while updating them for a modern audience. 


“Nobody has ever written a book about Rocky Mountain cuisine or, more specifically, with a Utah focus on it,” Miller said. He’s had such an idea for two years. 


“I think there’s a lot of places that hit on it. They’ll have a cool version of Utah scones, or a cool version of funeral potatoes, but there’s no one place that focuses on it, and every place will get lost in the trend that’s hot now.” 


With extra time on his hands, Miller spent copious amounts of time in the library pouring over books to understand the history of food in Utah. 


He focused on ways that he could incorporate ingredients, such as the beet; cooking equipment, such as cast iron; and culinary techniques, such as how Native Americans used native species in their cooking among other things. 


One of the most exciting historical details that he has found during his research is why halibut is widely consumed in Utah. 


“I did a deep dive on that one, and I found out that back in the day this was the last stop that the railroad made from the Pacific Northwest before they had to dump off all of their fish before it went rotten,” Miller said.


“I’ve spent my whole life in fine dining. I think it’s using time and place as my focus while paying respect to the past and its stories while making it unique by modernizing it,” Miller said. 


Miller currently has an agent who is reviewing his work with him and is open minded about the possibilities that lie ahead for his work. 


“I hope it could be something that the world could enjoy, but at the end of the day, if a couple people in Salt Lake City and Park City get some use and learn a few things then I’m good with that too.”


He recommends that people take time during the next couple of months to reflect on what they want to do.


“What’s important is your family, the people you love, and what you actually want to do in this life,” he said. “Is it just about grinding and paying your electricity bill, or is it about actually going for it?”


Thoughts for the New Year


Despite challenges, many in the Salt Lake Valley have shown there is much to look forward to all around us. There are new opportunities for connection, ways to be grateful, and original ways to invest talents into the community. 


While some of the greatest difficulties lie ahead, the changes brought by COVID-19 have been an unconventional blessing for many, if one looks hard enough. 


“There’s something when you have a shared experience with people. So, even though we’re all huddled alone in our homes, we’re all going through the same thing mentally and we have the same fears and we’re getting information together at the same time. We have that shared bond of this experience and knowing that we can lean on each other,” Ferriello said, adding that she is excited for what lies ahead. 


The new year will bring uncertainty, but it will also bring many people who are filled with the hopes expressed by her.