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Community members find hope, joy after tough year

For many 2020 was full of struggle: loss of jobs, income, health and more. But, even in darkness, there is light and opportunity.

TAMPA, Fla. — It's has been a tough year. Our community has seen loss, dealt with change, and been hit with adversity. But, hope is not gone.

Marina Williams is the owner of Artpool Gallery, a vintage and handmade goods shop in St. Pete. The store usually holds regular events centered around creativity and art throughout the year.  

But, in 2020, all shows were put on hold and her doors were closed. 

“It's been humbling. But I'm very thankful it's been the best year of my life simultaneously," Williams said.

When it comes to finances, she says the shop is barely scraping by. 

“Oh, it's rough. Our main goal every day is just to get our building costs covered. You know, we're not making anything," Williams said.

Others faced job challenges from home, like Marisa Valliant. She was up for two different promotions and an award.

 “It didn't really turn out that way. Unfortunately, I didn't get the role that I had wanted. Actually, it happened twice,” Valliant said.

The award was also awarded to someone else.

For others, like Cheryl Alofs, jobs became more challenging than they had ever been before. 

“I chose to be a nurse, an RN. And I decided I wanted to do that when I was about four years old. And I always kept that idea, I just knew I was going to be a nurse someday, which I did,” Alofs said. 

After 42 years, her job as a nurse changed. Families were left outside the surgery room, and Alofs was now the only face patients could see because of COVID-19.

“And I think those are times when we kind of turn onto the other side of our nursing in our career and what we know," Alofs said. 

During her 43rd year of nursing, Alofs regularly had to balance working with caring. 

"We had an elderly patient one day, gosh, I think he was probably, I would say maybe 90, and having a brain biopsy. And to go through a surgery like that not have anybody there with you is just it just broke my heart just absolutely broke my heart,” Alofs said. 

Even with a year of challenges, success and growth can blossom.

Williams turned to her creativity to think of new ways to connect with customers and sell. 

"And I just started thinking, 'how can we be innovative and maintain our shop and you know, work solely through Instagram, and Facebook?'"

Artpool has been selling to loyal customers online and they’ve had some help from the newest employee.

"We have a beautiful baby girl named Naomi, and she's about seven weeks old, and we are in total smitten love with her,” Williams said.

For Valliant, she saw the passed over opportunities as a sign that it was time to make a change. She decided to take the entrepreneurial leap.

“I studied, I got five, five licenses, I think it is in a matter of like four months. So, I studied study a ton," said Valliant.

She and started her own financial services company with her husband.

"From doing what I was doing before, it wasn't the right fit for me. And I felt, not to be morbid, but I felt empty inside I just didn't feel like I had a purpose, and in what we do now. It's so fulfilling,” Valliant said. 

And after one of the toughest years of her career, Alofs was able to retire. "Realize that life is short and it's time to retire and just kind of relax and have a good time."

With a challenging but rewarding 2020 for all three, Christmas is feeling extra special this year. But of course, everyone is also looking forward to the opportunities and change they hope 2021 will bring.

"I'm looking forward to seeing everybody. We just we've missed our customers," said Williams.

For Valliant, she is looking forward to growing, “In 2021, I'm most looking forward to the growth of our business, the growth of my family and my marriage.”

And for Alofs, she is excited for her new chapter to begin, “And just looking forward to traveling and doing some things that I want to do and start working on that bucket list.”