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FrontStepProject: Layla & Greg

Welcome to another #columbiaheights #frontstepproject. 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 (on FB, IG, Twitter, &/or YouTube). To be notified of new posts, subscribe at markeiphoto.com. We are still offering socially distant photography in MN, so feel free to reach out!

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Meet Layla & Greg, and their two girls Elsa (9) and Willa (5).

Layla and Greg have lived in Columbia Heights for 8 years.


Layla is a real estate agent and, counter to my expectations, she says the real estate market is HOPPING! She says people are more intent on finding the right home and finding it quickly. She says that the market has adapted to COVID by doing virtual tours with 360 cameras. Layla's goal is to grow her business specifically in the NE corner of the city because she wants to serve the community they live in. She is also super proud to have been chosen as Super Real Estate Agent for 2020 by Minneapolis St Paul magazine (something only the top 3-5% agents in MN are chosen for). She says she doesn't want people to feel like they're being "sold" something; she just wants to offer a service, a friend, and a business. It's been difficult to balance her work load with having the kids home. There's been quite a lot of take-your-kids-to-work days, which she says clients seem very understanding of.


Greg works for UPS and has had to start working on Saturdays. It's been hard for him because in the thick of quarantine, he was the only one in their family who was leaving the house and that was unnerving for them all. When he returned home, he would treat himself as a toxic substance, dropping his clothes & running straight to the shower. At work, he has hand sanitizer with him all day and sprays packages with rubbing alcohol.



Elsa & Willa attend a Chinese immersion school. The kids get assignments that they have to complete sometime during the day. They're typically, though, on Zoom calls from 8:30am-2pm with a few breaks which helps. But Layla says that it's hard for the kids in a way that it isn't for adults. Kids are being told to site and watch the other side of the screen with no physical interaction or movement. That said, the girls are doing fairly well with it. Layla and Greg try hard to not add extra pressure to them. Layla admits her girls are in the hardest school they could be in and are doing fine; plus, the rest of the world is going through this, too. So their parents aren't too concerned about the kids getting behind.



Layla acknowledges a silver lining, though. When she was growing up, her parents didn't provide her with a lot of extracurricular or sports opportunities. So it had been important to her to have her kids involved and active. However, during COVID, it's been surprisingly nice for the family to slow down and take the time to do things they haven't had time to do, like projects at their house. Layla says she had fully expected the kids to be out of their mind with no activites, playdates, or birthday parties, but they're FINE! The kids say the only thing they miss is their friends. They're finding fun things to do, getting more creative, and their bond as sisters has been deepening.



For Layla and Greg, as a couple they are reconnecting during this time. They describe themselves as a fairly independent couple with common interests but much they also do apart. The kids are also at an age where they're more independent, too. Layla says the two of them have grown apart over the years, but the pandemic has allowed them to reconnect, working on projects together, finding more meaningful ways to bond. They used to be such an incredibly family, but it's been good for them to slow down, have down time. Layla asks herself how they can work to maintain this new dynamic.



Friends have been asking them what they will do if summer programming for the kids opens up. Layla says she doesn't plan to sign her kids up. She says the girls aren't complaining. They're connecting with neighbors. Layla describes herself as always going, always something to do, never caught up. Neighbors describe her as the busiest person they know, but she never felt she was. But now she sees that all created a lot of stress she didn't realize could eliminate. No more bulldozing her kids with, "gotta go!!" They've even been connecting with their neighborhood. Everyone's been walking around outside. They've been having a socially distant happy hour with their neighbor next door. Layla even planned a neighborhood movie night, booking a margarita food truck (to which she invited me and I took pics!)


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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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¡Se habla español!

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