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Amabelle Camba, director of development for CASA of the River Region, says, “I am reminded daily that the things we often take for granted are what so many lack . . . The things we put off because we were ‘too busy’ suddenly became the things we needed to do to keep that sense of community present.”

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Amabelle Camba
Director of Development, CASA of the River Region
Married to Andrew Odom, mother to London, 18

What really matters to you? Community — not just immediate family, but extended family and the personal and professional relationships that bring diversity and meaning into your life. 

Why does this matter, and has what matters to you changed in recent months? If so, why? Since COVID-19, the idea of a physically connected community vanished overnight when people were staying home and only interacting with their households. As we continue to live in a virtual world, the simple actions of meeting up for coffee, attending a speaking engagement, or networking with familiar and new faces, are all being relegated to a platform that is unable to replace the effect of face-to-face interactions. The absence of community was even more evident as I witnessed my daughter finish her senior year of high school virtually. Despite the efforts of the school, the kids missed out on prom, senior trips, graduation, parties, etc. It took an emotional and mental toll. The hope is that it will instill a deeper sense of appreciation for the everyday things that are no longer “everyday.” 

What has surprised you? (as it relates either to yourself or to others) What has really surprised me is the amount of people who do their very best to show they care for others. My husband is a nurse in the emergency room, and when COVID-19 hit, frontline workers bore, and continue to bear, the load. They work tirelessly in unforgiving environments. Because many of us were looking for ways to support frontline workers and local businesses, I was able to recruit friends, family, and strangers to help provide lunches to the ER through local restaurants who switched to carry-out/delivery to survive. As more people participated, more folks took the initiative to connect with their network and provide lunches/snacks. Watching people pay-it-forward and seeing uplifted spirits during such a grim time is what has helped keep community alive for me. 

How do you incorporate gratitude into your life? I’ve spent 20 years in nonprofits, who help to elevate the lives of vulnerable and at-risk populations. I am reminded daily that the things we often take for granted are what so many lack. I’ve always kept a daily journal that provided a small space for maybe 1-2 sentences to sum up the best part of your day. Life was always so busy that we created journals that only required a small amount of effort and time. But since mid-March, days seem to blur together and we have more time to reflect on our thoughts. Some days it was hard to really decipher what made this one day better than the other. The 1-2 sentences suddenly became action items, like instead of trying to find 1-2 good things about your day, it was more like scheduling 1-2 things you should do to keep your spirits up. Simple things like walking/hiking with our dogs (we have two 95-pound labs), harvesting baskets of tomatoes from our garden and turning them into sauces and salsas, unplugging from technology and playing board/card games, or finally using the stationary I bought in Italy and writing letters to catch up with friends/relatives. The things we put off because we were “too busy” suddenly became the things I needed to do to keep that sense of community present. 

How do you keep yourself calm in the midst of chaos? The first half of my career I worked in fast-paced public relations firms. Then, I got my Masters in Social Work and interned in emergency departments and behavioral health clinics. Using the skills acquired from both industries, I jumped into working within nonprofits to help bring about change for clients that were victims of crime. Juggling chaos/crisis was something I was good at because I came at it from that social work perspective — letting go of your own expectations and meeting people where they were at without judgment. During this unprecedented time, the respect I gave to clients or patients is what is necessary to give to myself. Just because you’re home all day doesn’t mean you can finally get all the house projects done, you can cook every meal, start a new exercise plan, or attend every virtual training. I think people were under the impression that while home they needed to be super-productive, and when they weren’t, they felt like they failed. 

I stayed calm during all the chaos because I forgave myself for not committing to every virtual happy hour or finishing every household project while completing work projects. I had to remind myself that I am a person who has felt the trauma of the pandemic, and it was OK to feel the loss, to feel the heartache, and to empathize with others. We are all experiencing trauma. We all respond to it differently. But, if we can just cut ourselves some slack and allow ourselves to be present, we can find the calm in this storm of chaos. 

What brings you the greatest joy? Cooking has always been more therapeutic than a chore. I find the feeling of accomplishment in creating something from scratch has brought me the greatest joy. I love to cook because I love to eat. Travel is really the number one thing that brings me joy, but without it, I’ve found that I can still travel through food. I’ve delved into my own heritage of Filipino food, as well as cooking other cuisines from Italian to Japanese. It doesn’t stop at savory foods, either. I’ve moved to trying my hand at baking desserts like Swedish cakes, flans, and hundreds of chocolate chip cookies (still trying to find the best one). 

How do you bring joy to others? Last year, my friend and I started a small business called Native Pantry. Our goal was to introduce people to Filipino culture through food. We held food demos and dinners at MESA, A Collaborative Kitchen, Logan Street Market, and at the Asian Institute Crane House. Filipino culture invites everyone to come and eat with them. So, when Filipinos prepare food for parties, they always prepare at least double the amount. We never want to run out of food because we want people to be full. I guess it’s also a metaphor in terms of wanting people to be full of all the good things life has to offer. So, while I may not be able to hold barbecues or dinner parties, what I have done to try and bring joy to others is drop off some food I’ve made or fruits/veggies that we’ve grown. I find that food is a great connector of people, cultures, and ideas. 

What are you looking forward to? I am really looking forward to being able to gather around a big table and share a meal I cooked with people who are laughing and enjoying themselves. I’m also looking forward to traveling and visiting friends/family who are in different states and countries. I think more than anything else what I look forward to is reconnecting. 

P.S. Read about other local women’s views of the Big Picture.

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