Neighbors find ingenious ways to come together — while keeping their distance

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

When the world around you is down, but you happen to be the principal trumpet player with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, you do what you can to cheer people up.

So Hunter Eberly of Grosse Ile stepped out on his porch on Thursday and gave his neighbors an impromptu — and free — performance. Eberly, who has been with the DSO since 2013, played two songs from "The Godfather," a request from a neighbor.

Some people watched from their cars, others from across the street. It ended with a round of applause from the roughly 10 people who listened before the rain started to fall.

"It feels weird to sit inside and not do anything, so if I can play a little and put a smile on my neighbors’ faces, I’m all about it," Eberly said.

Across Metro Detroit, normal life might be on hold, but neighbors are finding new and creative ways to come together and lift spirits. From subdivisions hosting Shamrock Walks to performances such as Eberly's, people are keeping their distance while finding ways to come together. 

When St. Patrick's Day rolled around last week, Clariss Baraiac's family was stuck indoors. So the Madison Heights mom of three did the next best thing: She took her kids on a Shamrock Walk, looking for pictures of shamrocks hanging in her neighbors' windows.

"We've been doing something a little different every day like the Shamrock Walk," Baraiac said. "We did the sidewalk chalk the other day, too. (They are) small things to give people hope and remember we're all in this together."

Across the world, people are putting rainbows in their windows to spread hope during these challenging times.

Across the globe, community has been defined in new ways over the last few weeks. Rainbows have cropped up in windows, a universal symbol of hope during so much uncertainty. Many families have decided to rehang their Christmas lights, a small way to spread joy during so much uncertainty.

In Grand Blanc, about an hour north of Detroit, about 30 teachers and staff members at Indian Hill Elementary School held a Social Distancing Parade on Monday, driving their cars through nearby subdivisions as students and their families waved outside.

Annabelle Schaub and Paxton  Schaub of Grand Blanc hold up a sign during Indian Hill Elementary School's social distancing parade on March 23.

Jen Lahaie, a third-grade teacher at Indian Hill, got the idea from a school in Texas. Staff came up with a route and they drove through four subdivisions, telling all the school's families beforehand where they'd be and at roughly what time. Students who didn't live on the route were still encouraged to drive to the route with their families to wave. 

"I had no idea how it would go and if families would be out since it was a snowy morning, but families were everywhere," Lahaie said. "We put this together in about 24 hours, and families were out of their homes holding signs and waving.  Parents were in tears along with some staff members.  It was so good to see the kids and parents."

Hunter Eberly, principal trumpet for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, plays a song from the movie Godfather on the front steps of his Grosse Ile home, Thursday, March 26, 2020. Mr. Eberly and other members of the DSO have been playing from their homes at 6 p.m. to bring a bit of joy to their neighborhoods during the coronavirus pandemic.

As for Eberly, he's one of several DSO members holding informal porch concerts while the orchestra is on hiatus until mid-May. And they aren't alone. There's an entire hashtag on Twitter: #playonyourporch. 

Eberly said before his first performance this week, his wife told a few neighbors about his plans to perform but word also got out organically, he said.

"The trumpet is kind of loud," said Eberly. "It’s hard to miss."

Between 10-15 people showed up for his first performance at which he played "Stars Wars" songs. He plans to do it again, weather-permitting.

"It was fun," he said. "The neighbors loved it."

In Commerce Township, Kim Hoover's subdivision has already outlined an entire "Neighborhood Window Walk" through the rest of March and early April for neighbors to hang up in their windows. Thursday was "Encouraging Words," Sunday is "Flowers" and April 1 is, of course, "Jokes."

Hoover, who has three daughters ages 5, 9 and 10, said the neighborhood walks have become a welcome distraction.

It's given them "something to look forward to that day after our lunch break," said Hoover, a photographer. "Getting outside for exercise and seeing our neighborhood come together in an effort to keep things positive makes you appreciate all that you might have taken for granted before."

Josie Hoover, right, and her sister, Kenley, of Commerce Township keep track of how many shamrocks they find during their subdivision's Shamrock Walk. They found 51.

And it's not just art that is bringing people together.

In Detroit's historic Boston-Edison District, neighbors have been holding informal porch concerts for people who are walking and they've also had virtual Happy Hours through the Zoom videoconferencing website.

Back in Madison Heights, Baraiac, whose kids are 12, 2 and 1 and has lived in the city for 9 years, said one woman who holds gym classes for kids donated kites to kids across the city. And when the local Starbucks was forced to shut down, it donated all of its food.

"It's really been so amazing to see the community come together," Baraic said.