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‘Portage Strong’ unites community, inspires goodwill during coronavirus pandemic

‘Portage Strong’ unites community, inspires goodwill during coronavirus pandemic

Portage residents are spending “goodwill currency” in a new online community that aims to solve problems and spread positive messages during the global coronavirus outbreak.

Resident Jill Hagan launched “Portage Strong” on Facebook on Thursday “because it’s so easy to get run down by all the bad news” regarding the virus, she said. The group exceeded 1,000 members in 24 hours and more than 2,000 members before the end of the weekend.

“I’ve seen multiple posts from people who can’t get out of their house and the response is always, ‘What do you need? I will bring it to you,’” said Hagan, who works in health care registration at an SSM Health clinic in Baraboo. “I wouldn’t doubt that most people in Portage who are on Facebook will soon be in the group.”

On Monday afternoon, an elderly Portage resident said she needed help with her gas furnace but couldn’t afford any repairs.

Within an hour, she got the help she needed from a Portage Strong handyman.

“It shows that when stuff like this happens, people are willing to give their time and make things happen,” said Brandie McCreath, a prior authorization representative at Divine Savior hospital and Portage Strong member.

On Sunday, McCreath shared with the group pictures of inspirational messages that were written in chalk on the sidewalks of an employee entrance at Divine Savior. The chalk messages included “You are making a difference,” “You are appreciated” and “#PortageStrong,” indicating to McCreath that the authors were inspired by the new online group.

McCreath and the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Walters, said the messages didn’t go unnoticed Monday.

“For myself, walking in this morning, I felt supported and energized,” Walters said. “We’re proud to be a part of the community and this was a great way to show our team that our hard work is recognized.”

McCreath said she needed a boost in morale — especially after working a 12-hour shift at the hospital’s new respiratory care clinic, which treats and evaluates patients for the disease that’s caused by the novel coronavirus: COVID-19.

“I think goodwill currency is one small act of kindness,” McCreath said of Portage Strong. “That one simple act of kindness really made a difference to our whole staff. It made 50 or 100 people smile and feel better.”

Portage Strong is a place to “feel good” about what’s happening in your community, Hagan said, including the post it shared from the Portage Police Department on Sunday: Police learned that a 7-year-old girl’s birthday party got canceled due to the virus and her family hoped friends would drive by the home and honk for her.

Eight officers — some of them on duty and others not — stopped by that day with K9 Ares, a K9 Ares plush doll and sang “happy birthday” to the girl from the street.

“It’s easy to stay positive when you’re doing something for someone else,” Hagan said.

Ideas shared by Portage Strong members run the gamut and so far include donating food at the city’s mobile library stations; color coding children’s homework according to days of the week, to help them stay organized in their education while they’re home from school; and an April 10 “Egg Your Window” egg hunt that would allow children to hunt for Easter eggs in residential windows while maintaining social distancing.

“In house fires or when people get sick, people in Portage come together, every single time,” said Hagan, who is herself utilizing project ideas that get shared frequently in the group for her 2-year-old daughter. ”It’s awesome. I grew up in another small town (Cross Plains) that had nice community but nothing like Portage. Everybody comes together; they always come through.”

Said McCreath, “I’m one of those people who believes everything happens for a reason, and maybe that reason is to bring our communities together. I think we’ll come out of this stronger, as hard as it is right now. We’ll get through all this. It won’t be bad like this forever.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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