As a reporter, my year is often defined by the people I meet during the course of it.
One of the great challenges of daily journalism is that our articles cycle off the front page of the website after a few days. For many stories, this is fine — circumstances change, new events require our undivided attention, problems are (hopefully) resolved. (And if not, I’ll be back!)
But there are also times when the stories we tell are single snapshots of a much longer, ongoing trajectory. We walk away, the readers turn the page (or scroll past), but the people continue to live their lives and grapple with their situations, day by day. And sometimes, those issues or struggles fall out of the public consciousness too soon.
I want to take this moment to highlight some of the stories that most profoundly resonated with me this year, and whose repercussions will continue into 2023.
First, I was privileged to speak to the teachers and students at St. Basil’s Ukrainian School in Stamford when the war in Ukraine first broke out back in February. The high school students sat with me in a semi-circle in their classroom and told me about their family members – some refugees in other countries, others refusing to leave Ukraine. They said they wanted the U.S. to do more to support Ukraine — including, at the time, imposing a no-fly zone over the country — what they referred to as “protecting the skies.” A special thanks to Ulyana Yosipiv, principal of the school, and her daughter Kristina for their generosity.
As of today, the war continues. In November, top U.S. general Mark Milley estimated that both Russia and Ukraine had lost 100,000 people in the war. Cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol have suffered massive destruction. This week, President Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the U.S. would continue to stand by the war-torn country — although a few members of Congress are starting to push back against the amount of aid being sent overseas. Congress is preparing to vote on a new emergency aid package of $45 billion, added to $1.85 billion in military aid that was just approved.
Sisters Hosay, Maryam, Basmina and their parents welcomed me into their home in Bridgeport back in August and recounted their journey from Afghanistan, where they were being threatened by the Taliban, to Fort Dix, NJ, and finally relocated to Connecticut. They told me about struggling to afford rent and transportation as the initial support funds for Afghan refugees ran out. Hosay said they sometimes are not able to afford to purchase the fruit that her father likes so much.
Between August 2021 and October 2022, the United States had taken in over 88,500 Afghan refugees, according to reporting from NPR. But struggles still exist. The U.S. Congress recently failed to pass a bill that would have given Afghans who have come to the U.S. the opportunity to get permanent residency.
The family I spoke with who came from Afghanistan are not the only ones worrying about rent right now. The housing crisis has been hitting elderly people particularly hard. I talked with Judith, age 66 and Jan, age 60, at the New London Homeless Hospitality Center in November, who told me that they haven’t been able to find housing in the city that their fixed monthly incomes have allowed them to afford — a situation that Margaret Middleton, CEO of the New Haven homeless shelter Columbus House, referred to as the “silver tsunami.”
I also spoke throughout the summer and fall with people from various manufactured home communities in Killingworth, Southington, Beacon Falls and Clinton. These individuals told me about backed-up septic systems, flooding underneath their trailers and trees falling on their cars — all while their rents continue to rise. Many who are elderly and on a fixed income are fearful of how they will be able to keep pace with inflationary rents, often caused by a large company coming in and purchasing the mobile home park where they live. This is a trend that has been going on for years, and I’m encouraged by the awareness that the issue seems to be getting on the federal and state levels.
An enormous thank you to the woman who spoke with me — anonymously — back in February about trying to afford therapy for her six-year-old son, who became depressed, refused to eat and whose hair was falling out after witnessing domestic violence in the home. Her immigration status prevented her from being able to get health insurance, and she was told she would have to pay $150 per session for her child to have therapy. The Connecticut State Legislature has since passed a law that will cover all children up through the age of 12, and children who are registered into the system will not be knocked off until they are 18. This will also cover her son.
As an education reporter, I also spoke with many parents struggling to get special education services approved for their children this year. In Colchester, I spoke with many families, including Tina Pappalardo, whose autistic son, Giovanni, has not received services since summer 2021. Other parents told me about being refused evaluations for their children, about discovering that their children were not meeting the academic goals outlined in their education plans, and about being met with hostility at meetings with district staff. Special education advocates told me they have heard similar complaints from special education services in various districts across the state.
I also want to highlight a few of the lighter pieces I’ve done, including an interview with some incredible writers whose poems were featured at Lyme-Old Lyme’s first Juneteenth Celebration — check those out if you have a minute.
Finally, I want to give a shout-out to the two most important people I’ve met this year — the first-born children of two of my closest friends: Maria Willis, born June 5, and Gabriel Clavin, born October 26. And, of course, to Peter Werth McManus, born Dec. 22 to my friend and colleague, Julia Werth. Welcome to the world, guys. Let’s see what you make of it.