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#FrontStepProject: Kelli & Toby

Updated: May 12

Welcome to another #columbiaheights #frontstepproject brought to you by MarKei Photo & Video. I began this initiative to facilitate connecting the humans in my city, to celebrate our diversity, and share our challenges during this pandemic and beyond. If you’re enjoying this series, please share. To support my photography, like & follow MarKei Photo & Video (on FB, IG, Twitter, &/or YouTube). We are still offering socially distant photography in MN, so feel free to reach out!


Kelli and Toby live near Keyes Park.

************************************* They had their second child, Josie, on March 16th, just days before shelter-in-place kicked in. They also have a 3.5 year old, Teddy. Toby is really glad they had Josie when they did as we all know many folx who have to be in the hospital alone during these times. While acknowledging they have a lot of privilege in their situation, they were still very sad to be missing out on enjoying visits from friends and family to celebrate Josie’s birth. They expressed grief regarding their parental leave not being how they imagined. All of their grandparents are alive; they wanted them to meet Josie. They wanted to go a trip up to Duluth. They want to take Teddy out for a “special day with mom at the zoo”.


Teddy is doing well enough, though, his parents are concerned that he doesn’t have as many outlets anymore. He misses his daycare and his friends. He gets sad when they drive by parks and he can’t stop there because of “germs”. He is frightened by the masks everyone is wearing, including those he knows. Teddy stays busy despite not being able to go to daycare, play at the park, or go to swimming lessons. He is working on learning letters of the alphabet, counting (with jellybeans), painting, playing in the backyard, and other fun crafts at home. He’s definitely having more screen time. The highlight of most days is going on “adventures” with dad - dragon hunting, hiking and exploring. They’ve been fortunate to be able to allow all of the grandparents to see the new baby and Teddy at a safe distance. As I spoke on the phone with his parents, I could hear him in the background, celebrating that he cut the 4th waffle he’d eaten that morning all by himself. I feel ya, Teddy, I do. I’m eating my pandemic feelings, too.


Kelli is very passionate about her job as a group sales manager at a local theater. As far as she knows, there will be a job waiting for her when she is done with parental leave, as she hasn’t heard any different. But it’s hard to know in these times, especially with venues like theaters likely being on the back-end of things reopening. However, Kelli says that fans crave art and shared experiences inside the theater, so her employer will be ready when the time comes and it’s safe enough for folx again. Although Kelli is tied to the house and baby Josie, she loves connecting with family, friends, and coworkers via Zoom, and creating things with Teddy. The warmer weather has been wonderful allowing everyone to be outside and she’s thrilled to sneak in a run every once and awhile!


Toby works for a local financial company as a Senior Marketing Operations Manager. His job appears to be stable. Right now he is on a 12 week paid parental leave (editor’s note: yay for parental leave for dads!) and will be returning on June 8th. Toby shared that he gets incredibly excited for Zoom calls these days. At first, he thought it wouldn’t match with sitting outside at a taproom, surrounded by friends and strangers. But he’s realized that these virtual calls strip away all the “noise”, resulting in deeper connections. In the past, when he’s gone out, the location is almost a “crutch” providing you with good feelings about the occasion. The ambiance of a restaurant or bar aren’t available anymore to supplement the good feelings of connecting. You blew my mind, Toby. I love it.


After hearing Kelli & Toby’s story, I declared “You all were into quarantine before quarantine was cool”. Classic hipster.


The whole family went down to the airport for a picnic lunch and to watch the planes. They recognize all the major problems of this pandemic and at the same time turn their attention towards some of the major silver linings. For example, they get to be around their son 24/7, watch him grow, see him change, and do so many fun things. “It’s mind-blowing. It’s a gift,” Missy says. Toby refers to this time as “The Great Pause” for some folx. They’ve realized that for some people, they will come out of his pandemic better. A higher value and appreciation for human connection is bubbling up as something we didn’t know how much we needed. They’ve seen so many positive examples of how humanity has risen up to support others in this very community. They did ask themselves when Josie was born, “What kind of world did we bring our baby into?”, yet as time went by, they realized it was a beautiful one filled with humanity.


Lastly, they loved seeing meals being distributed locally with so much enthusiasm. Volunteers are so welcoming, inviting, and fun for families who are picking up meals. They continue to support our local businesses, asking themselves, “what business do we want to still be here when this is done.”

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#FRONTSTEPPROJECT: If YOU want to be featured, message me! It is free for Columbia Heights residents. Donations to SACA Food Shelf & Thrift Store are encouraged. Special priority for residents who are members of a disenfranchised community, essential workers (particularly healthcare) or local businesses. Please share this opportunity with your neighbor who may not be on social media.

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#COVIDHIGHLIGHT: If you know an essential worker, immunocompromised individual, or otherwise marginalized/impacted individual whose story you want to elevate (with their consent), consider hiring MarKei for a #COVIDHighlight photoshoot & interview for $175. For example, purchase for your next door neighbor who is a doctor and has had to live in the family garage for the last 2 months. Or for the teenager next door who is missing out on prom and graduation. I will interview them on the phone and do a socially distant photo shoot with them (even through glass, if extra precautions are necessary!) Reach out for more details! Available to any metro resident.

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¡Se habla español!

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