Family of Portage nurse turns fence into collage of encouraging messages

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PORTAGE, MI – Along Oakland Drive in Portage, the DePierre family have transformed their once simple fence into a collage of homemade signs bearing positive messages for all who see it.

About two weeks after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced schools would be closed for the remainder of the year, Audrey and her husband, Kirk, were trying to adjust to what would be their new normal. Kirk decided to stay home with their children Kiah, 6, and Vierra, 5, while Audrey, who is a nurse, continued to work.

“They were fed up with staying inside,” said Audrey DePierre. “We all got discouraged and ended up sleeping on the couch and it was very overwhelming and sad with the unknown.”

Coming from an artistic background, the couple decided they needed to do something to boost the morale of the family.

Related: Homemade signs from Kalamazoo woman urge neighbors to ‘slow the spread’ of coronavirus

“I’m a very active person and needed to do something with my energy,” DePierre said. “Especially when it’s negative and when I saw how it affected my husband and my kids.”

As the DePierre’s were cleaning out their basement, the couple realized they had already stockpiled cardboard and paint, which sparked an idea.

The family got together and got to work. Kirk came up with clever sentences, Audrey created other positive messages, and Kiah and Vierra participated by painting backgrounds and their own artwork on the cardboard. Soon the DePierre family had an abundance of unique signs.

“I wanted to involve the kids in something positive that would make – at least us – feel better,” DePierre said. “Then we just hoped people would respond positively to it. “

The family fence is now almost covered in brightly painted panels. Some have cheerful designs of flowers. Another shows the increasingly familiar sketch of the COVID-19 virus, then a “less of” symbol, followed by a drawing of Earth.

Others feature encouraging messages such as ‘Don’t give up’, ‘One day at a time’ and ‘Positive vibes save lives’, while some family artwork emphasizes information. more informative, such as “Wash. Wash. Wash Wash, “and another urging passers-by to” Be smart. Stay 6 feet apart. “

Related: Kalamazoo mask makers spend their days sewing to protect others

Audrey is a nurse at the Bronson Methodist Hospital in downtown Kalamazoo, and worked in the COVID-19 unit there. With an immunocompromised child, she said she was filled with fear and uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There was an overwhelming sense of grief and uncertainty, and just anxiety,” DePierre said. “I have a family and I want to protect my family, but I also have a duty as a nurse, and I would never leave anyone behind or not help, so it hit hard.”

Audrey is still grappling with what the future may hold for her, believing that if she spends more time working in the COVID-19 unit, she may have to live away from her family in her parents’ campervan. But the signs on the fence remain a positive daily reminder, to their families and to passers-by.

“At first we saw people stop and take pictures, which was reassuring that what we were doing had a positive response,” DePierre said. “People honk as they pass and it lifts us up. We just wanted to be uplifting and promote safety to try to help. “

Learn more about Michigan coronavirus coverage here.

PREVENTION TIPS

In addition to washing your hands regularly and not touching your face, authorities recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone can carry the virus.

Health officials say you should stay at least 6 feet from others and work from home, if possible.

Take hand sanitizer with you and use sanitizing wipes or sanitizing spray cleaners on frequently touched surfaces in your home (doorknobs, faucets, countertops) and when going to places like stores.

Additional information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

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A timeline of the coronavirus in the Kalamazoo region

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Parents, we want to hear from you: How is social isolation going for your family?

Twins build twin snowmen, six feet apart, to promote social distancing

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