History exhibit explores effects of COVID-19 pandemic on children

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 25, 2021

STERLING HEIGHTS — An exhibit at the Sterling Heights Community Center aims to shine a light on the toll that COVID-19 has taken on children and young adults.

Titled “History Today: The Children of COVID-19,” the exhibit opened earlier this summer and is located on the second floor of the Sterling Heights Community Center, at 40250 Dodge Park Road. The exhibit will come down shortly after Labor Day weekend.

The exhibit features a variety of written and illustrated works from local youth 18 and younger expressing the effects of the pandemic on their lives.

Karen Turk, a librarian at the Sterling Heights Public Library specializing in local history and archives, said the submissions showcase a range of emotions.

“Students mainly explored feeling restricted, fears about family members becoming ill and trying to make the best of an unprecedented situation,” Turk said in an email.

The exhibit is organized by the Sterling Heights Historical Commission as an outreach project aimed at chronicling a unique time in life, including the anxiety and isolation experienced by so many while much of society was shut down.

All submissions will be permanently archived and preserved in the city’s historical collection once the exhibit ends. In all, there are 11 submissions, including essays, paintings and drawings.

The artists were elementary through high school age. Entries came not only from children and young adults in Sterling Heights, but also Clinton Township, Shelby Township, Mount Clemens and Macomb Township.

“The idea was to ask kids directly to comment on the pandemic,” Meghan Mott, the chair of the Sterling Heights Historical Commission, said in an email. “It is something we don’t often do, seeking to preserve reactions in real time, but the pandemic certainly felt like a historic event, and we had this opportunity to collect and keep these thoughts. Seeing the pieces, I thought it was really interesting, the range of emotions expressed: hope, fear, frustration, courage and confidence.”

Cynthia Appleton, a member of the commission, said the idea formed early in the pandemic.

“Our commission is dedicated to a strong mission of not only preserving history, but also presenting, informing and involving the community in it,” Appleton said in an email. “This not only involves the past — it’s sometimes important to see history today. Documenting current milestone events firsthand is a vital part of history.

“Through the spring and summer of 2020, there was so much uncertainty about life in general, and the true ‘toss up’ in the turmoil seemed to be children,” she added. “Seeing it firsthand in our children and grandchildren, we realized that this was such an event. We not only wanted to capture it, but also preserve it.”

Appleton said the pieces are “dramatically emotional.”

“Looking at them, you can feel the effect of the pandemic on their lives, each in a different expression,” she said. “Some are raw and stunning.”

The commission has continued to plan programming throughout the pandemic, holding virtual meetings where they discussed how to reach people remotely.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, the commission organized a live cemetery walk at Sterling Grove Cemetery. During the pandemic, the group held an online city trivia contest and filmed a fall program with the assistance of SHTV called “Victorian Funeral Customs,” which aired on the city’s TV channel and YouTube channel.

And for the past few years, the group has held city bus tours during the summer that take guests on a narrated tour of the city, with historical facts about local sites. This year, it was done virtually with a video titled “The New City Bus Tour — Telling the Sterling Story,” which premiered on city channels Aug. 19.

Currently, the commission is working on a video for the holidays: “A Victorian Christmas Walk,” to be filmed in the Upton House.

The commission meets bimonthly on the first Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. The meetings are once again in person at the Upton House Museum, 40433 Dodge Park Road, unless the pandemic warrants otherwise. The next meeting is set for Oct. 7.

Residents can support the commission’s efforts by participating in events and visiting the Upton House on open days. Tours are available by appointment through the library website for every Wednesday and the second Sunday of the month. Tours are free, but donations are always welcome.

In addition, the commission is always looking for photos of the city, which they will copy and return to the owner. Photos are also accepted digitally.  

Mott said the commission is always eager to get more people involved.

“If anyone is interested in volunteering with the commission, contact the library, and we’ll get back to you,” Mott said.

The Sterling Heights Public Library can be reached by calling (586) 446-2665.