One year later: Woman returns residence, starts meet-up group for new, returned adults | Lifestyles

TRAVERSE CITY – The COVID-19 pandemic turned many lives upside down in March 2020, and for a woman who grew up in Grand Traverse County, the pandemic helped bring her home.

On the morning of March 11, 2020, Jeneil Bamberg, 36, said she was sleeping with a friend in Kenya, Africa, where she was attending a yoga festival, when she was awakened by a phone call from her father in Williamsburg.

Bamberg said her father went on to say that her grandfather had just died.

A few days later, planning to return to New York City, where she has lived for eleven years, Bamberg said she immediately made plans to fly to northern Michigan to be with her family.

“It started with logistical nightmares for a few days because we were trying to see if I could come back sooner,” said Bamberg, adding that she hoped to attend her grandfather’s funeral.

“Things were heating up around the world (along with) the pandemic. Lockdowns occurred … We were nervous that I would be able to get back to America in time for the borders to close. “

Four days later, Bamberg said she had started her originally planned flight from Kenya to England, where she had a layover.

“I had to spend one night in a hostel at London Airport, which was a very scary time for me,” said Bamberg. “Nobody knew anything about the virus. (I) didn’t know how to catch it … Just traveling internationally was a very daunting prospect at the time. And I’ve had friends stretching out, ‘Where are you?’ “

One of those friends was Cailley Frank-Lehrer, 35, who said she had known Bamberg since her days at Elk Rapids High School and had lived in New York City for more than a decade – most of the time next to Bamberg.

Frank-Lehrer said she wasn’t too worried about her friend making it back to the US

“It was one step ahead of the policy, which was implemented quickly,” said Frank-Lehrer about Bamberg. “She’s a pretty savvy traveler.”

Bamberg said she was lucky just to get out of London, from where she was leaving the next day on her way to New York City.

“Had I traveled a day later, I would not have made it back because they closed flights from the UK,” Bamberg said, referring to the UK.

Upon arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, where she had a three-hour break, Bamberg said her arrival in America was like stepping into a strange new world.

“Things were a bit scary,” said Bamberg. “The airport was pretty empty.”

She said it was her first time seeing people in face masks.

“It was a little terrifying,” said Bamberg. “Just the shock of understanding that we are entering a global pandemic event – it’s a lot the human brain has to process when you travel like this … And I’ve really focused on being as safe as possible. with so little information about the virus. “

After the layover, Bamberg said she took a flight from New York City to Detroit and then another flight from Detroit to Traverse City.

From that point on, Bamberg said she was effectively stranded in northern Michigan.

“We weren’t sure what would happen to suspensions,” said Bamberg. “New York closed this week, and Michigan a few days later. And traveling felt too tricky. I don’t think I could even have traveled back (to New York City) then. “

Bamberg said she stayed at her father’s apartment in Williamsburg and could do her job as a fellow at a community health center in the Bronx to serve low-income and uninsured people.

When she was able to safely return to New York in June, Bamberg said she had decided to make her stay in northern Michigan permanent – something she had been thinking about regularly since 2017.

“I just got the idea that I miss my family,” said Bamberg. “But it seemed so untenable at the time. It just seemed like – what would I do there? “

However, she said her final months in New York were a difficult time, partly due to the death of her mother, Kathryn Bamberg of Williamsburg, in May 2019.

“(She) has given this community a lot as a longtime social worker,” said Jeneil Bamberg, adding that her mother’s career included working at Addiction Treatment Services’ Phoenix Hall in Traverse City and the North Country Community Mental Health in Charlevoix . “It made me feel like I wanted to be closer to my family and really want to make this happen.”

Frank-Lehrer said she wasn’t surprised by her friend’s decision.

“I was sad to see her leave New York, but happy that she had a safe place in Michigan to be closer to family and it just made sense,” said Frank-Lehrer. “She is a very flexible, adaptable person who has literally lived all over the world. So I knew she would do it. “

Shortly after Jeneil Bamberg made the move official, he started a local meetup group called New and Returned Northern Michiganders to connect with other adults who recently moved to the area.

“It was difficult to meet people at first,” said Jeneil Bamberg, alluding to her return to northern Michigan. “And I remember growing up in the area … Sometimes it feels like you have to search to find like-minded people.”

She said the pandemic is also making it a lot harder to hit people.

“It was a bit lonely for a while,” said Jeneil Bamberg. “And I felt very isolated, like a lot of people do with the pandemic these days.”

Because of this, she said the meetup group’s opening event in September would be a breath of fresh air for attendees.

“We were all just gushing about being in a group even though we were all strangers and a pandemic was afoot,” said Jeneil Bamberg, adding that proper safety precautions were being followed. “We were just really happy to meet new people.”

She said the group had held four events so far, each of which included a walking tour and some a visit to a tavern or restaurant afterward.

However, she said the group has been on hiatus since its last event in November.

“What I’ve done is kind of a parallel where the state is with closings because it’s also difficult to have a public meetup group where we go for a hike and then want to have a drink somewhere when no one is really open or where people just don’t feel safe, ”said Jeneil Bamberg. “But I would definitely like to hold more events as far as I can in the near future.

“This year has been really tough for everyone,” she added. “But I firmly believe that better times are ahead. We can grow. The group can grow. And we are open and welcome to new members. “

Frank-Lehrer actively supports her friend’s meetup group as she even attended the group’s last event in November when she was in town.

“She has put a lot of work into finding safe, low-risk activities for people who have returned to the area to meet and socialize, and I support that idea,” said Frank-Lehrer of her longtime Girlfriend . “And I’m still very attached to Michigan … I return when I can and love the natural beauty and love to go out and be outside.”

Jeneil Bamberg said she was glad she decided to return to Grand Traverse County.

“It’s been really great for me in so many ways,” she said. “It was cool to be here as an adult and see that there are other like-minded adults in the community.

“I’m really looking forward to more opportunities to grow and learn here,” she added.

As the one year anniversary approaches, Jeneil Bamberg said she will never forget the date of March 16, 2020 – when she returned to northern Michigan at a unique time in history.

“I’ve found myself here ever since,” she said.

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