By Pamela Puchalski, Executive Director, OHNY

Three years ago, I experienced one of the most unsettling moments of my adult life. I’m walking down the street with my then 9-month-old daughter in a stroller. And I’m afraid. Afraid of my neighbors, especially the runners, sharing the sidewalk with me and my baby. Those were the early days, when masks were not required and even if they were, who runs with a mask on? We were trapped in our apartment and that simple beautiful thing of taking a baby for a walk left me fraught with anxiety. So we left our idyllic Carroll Gardens neighborhood for a beachfront golf resort in South Carolina. Not at all my vibe but I was desperate to keep space free from others—a protection Brooklyn could not provide.

I spent months shuttling back and forth between the Carolinas and Brooklyn. I even bought a car, something I believed I would never do. In this way, the pandemic was dramatically reshaping my identity. Runners don’t wear masks, and urbanists don’t own cars. Who was I becoming?

It was during this time that I began contemplating leaving New York. I was working from home like everyone else, and with a baby and caregiver in the adjacent room. Although my neighborhood had never felt more important, I felt deeply disconnected from my city, a place I had dreamed of belonging to since I, myself, had been a little girl. Six months into the pandemic, I got news of an opening at Open House New York, a mission-driven organization I had been attached to since its founding in 2001, shortly after I had finally become a New Yorker. OHNY unlocks the city, offering New Yorkers and visitors behind-the-scenes access to places across the five boroughs that are both little-known and globally recognized. I knew immediately that the job was a calling: a gateway to reconnect to my city in a profound way, something I desperately needed and longed to give to my daughter. I decided with startling clarity and ease that if I didn’t get the job, I would leave.

The pandemic turns three this month and I’m celebrating my two-year anniversary at OHNY. Over the past two months, we have been inundated with requests to partner with organizations of all stripes—places and institutions that recognize the profound importance of bringing our fellow New Yorkers back out into the city again—its streets, public spaces, cultural and community anchors like libraries and museums that have never felt more vital to the diversity of experiences that comes from living in the greatest city in the world. These requests remind me of what New York was like in the aftermath of 9/11, when the city defiantly rejected the knee-jerk reaction to close its doors. But it’s also a dramatically different time. A time coinciding with massive protests and reckoning around persistent and stark inequalities, infused with an energy and righteousness that I cannot quite describe. Residents from every corner of the city are only beginning to share their stories about what it means to belong and thrive here. And they are stories I am desperate to hear.


By Saundra Thomas

Watch Saundra Thomas read her poem in the video above.

Silver Linings


I quote that I wrote:


2020 made us stronger.


I’ll tell you why from the glint in my mind’s eye, and won’t hold back the good news any longer.


(Again I quote)

We survivors wrestled and tussled and protected the vote


Yet beyond the obvious, I suggest the onslaught of the past year’s awakening, earth shattering 





New direction 

Dare I say self-reflection and 



Lies an opportunity for refining 


Let’s bring forth 

my defining of the year of the silver lining


No other way to put it 

the pandemic led to words unsaid truths untold


which unfold 

like a book opening to a new chapter in our country’s troubled yet hopeful history of struggle,

But before you muzzle

hear me out


While I shout:


this has been year of the silver lining


Not only have I heard that expression used more in the past twelve months than anytime in my lifetime


But I find 


it curious and I’m serious 

when I say through all the muck and mire I witness people getting in touch with their 





The year of the silver lining


presented an unprecedented opportunity for some people to dive into life- long dreams

Finding-their place in the sun,

or in the kitchen

a new way of living-given


a new perspective on the reality of life and it’s ticking clock. 

So they took stock.


The year of the silver lining

had us come face to face with the undisputed reality of death as part of our collective journey giving us the strength and courage to step outside of fear


at least that’s what I hear

when folks share 


that they are looking toward the future in a new way


Taking risks, making moves,

putting fire under themselves

to propel 

past 2020 hell


Into what may have seemed like indulgence or a fantasy in 2019. 


Or something in between.


You know what I mean?


Some of this is what has brought us here. Here as the pendulum swings back and forth between our emergence out of the darkest of hours and a resurgence of another variant aimed to strip us of our new found power.


This is has been the ultimate test of faith in my 59 years 


straddling the line between possibility, hope and a trail of tears


The silver linings taught me 


How to walk past the dropping of bodies while simultaneously expressing gratitude for the abundance of blessings and gifts in my life


The silver linings


A year ripe for reinvention and reflection. 


Time to contemplate possibility. 


Front line workers maybe getting their due. That’s still up to me and you.

In between our own self indulgence of making our own dreams come true


as a people we’ll shine when all boats are lifted and when we get into good trouble and put to good use a troubled year gifted with silver linings. What does all this mean?

I’ll leave it up to you for defining. 




By Lauren Tregor

Three years seems impossible, it feels like yesterday.

I remember when we all went home that the whole “world shutting down” seemed so surreal. How could this be happening in our lifetime (we are so progressive)?

So many unknowns in both my personal and professional worlds. Zoomed birthdays, loss of human connections, staying isolated mainly out of my own fears. Not knowing how long we would be apart (family and friends) was definitely stressful for me.  So many emotions: anxiety, loneliness…and did I have enough PPE, toilet paper, and cleaning products.  I stocked my pantry like I might never see the light of day.

I did enjoy some cooking and experimenting with new ingredients but mostly I did it to keep busy.  I had to remember to breathe and take time to take care of myself (still a struggle).  As we started coming out the worst of it, I have realized that my friends circle while smaller in scope is stronger, and we definitely watch out for each other.  I still Zoom with my sisters twice a month, a routine we started early on since being together was not always easy.

I am still so mindful of public transportation and think about every step along the way (should I go to the supermarket versus getting a delivery? Can I hug this person?). So, my pantry is still full and I have more than enough paper towels, toilet paper, masks for another 12 months!


By Ali Rea Baum

When we closed in March 13, we just celebrated the opening of the amazing Studio 54 show at the Brooklyn Museum. While we changed the format of the event a bit to fit the arising concern of COVID, it still felt like this would be only a slight hitch in our events, and not a shut down. I felt as if we would be planning galas and weddings in no time.

Fast forward three years, and my life has vastly changed. In August 2020, I got married (instead of 200 guests we only ended up having 35); we welcomed our little girl in May of 2021; moved to Maryland in August of 2021 for my husband’s job and in January 2023, we moved back to New York, happily. The shutdown made me realize many things about myself and my relationships. A few to note, one that my husband was the right man to marry (24/7 together definitely made it seem feasible); two, being a mom is wonderful and exhausting; and three, slowing down to appreciate how lucky I am in this fast-paced world, isn’t a bad thing at all.


By Linda Abbey

Where were you in March of 2020.  Is there a moment that stands out in your memory?

That first week of March 2020, I took my husband to see the Broadway production of COMPANY to celebrate his birthday. Earlier that week, we catered a reception for 400 at a cultural institution; COVID rumblings had started and staff inquired if they could wear gloves to serve food and drink. That felt so foreign and though I said yes, it still seemed so odd at the time. One short week later, the city collapsed.

What about the early days of lockdown do you remember most?

During early days of lockdown, simple tasks required consideration. We feared contracting this then deadly disease, keeping close to home and grocery shopping at 6am to avoid crowds. Since masks for purchase were at a premium, I hand sewed my first mask from leftover fabric I had used to make the kitchen curtains.

How did you adapt to lockdown? Was there any silver lining?

We hunkered down at home in Briarcliff Manor, where we were so blessed to have a wealth of space both indoor and outdoor. After living there for 10+ years, I only then found out that, just steps up a back road, there was a stable with Winnie, the pony and Talisman, the horse. I got to know the owner who let me ride Tali on occasion.

Do you have any family experiences to share?

Like most, we cooked a lot of new recipes …. Both food AND drink. I became notorious on social media for my cocktail postings.

"Experimenting again. Lady Killer - gin, apricot brandy, pineapple and passion fruit juice, triple sec. Cheers!" Credit: Linda Abbey

What are some of the changes you have made that stick to this day?

Balancing family/personal time with work pressures, and often prioritizing the former over the latter.

How you feel about NYC?

Since the pandemic, we sold our house & moved back to Harlem. I do not miss the space or the trees at all and am THRILLED to have at my fingertips all that this wonderful metropolis has to offer.


By Kevin Jaeger

In March of 2020, New York City was a speeding train vibrating with excitement and possibility and I–like many of us–was thrilled to be along for the crazy ride. We were unstoppable.  We were unbreakable. We were all Leo in Titanic–we were “King of the World!”

And then, one day–the unthinkable happened: the train came to a crashing halt and suddenly, the city stood eerily still.

The past few years have been a jarring and confusing time for all of us. I spent much of lockdown alone in my studio apartment trying to make sense of the traumatic events wreaking havoc on our city and our world. The city’s heartbeat was gone—the addictive rhythm that typically resonated in the traffic, the bright lights, the bustling crowds, the busy streets. All the joys and woes of this magical and complicated metropolis seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye. And without that constant and resounding beat guiding us like a metronome, the silence of the city was deafening.


Three years later, as we all continue to navigate life in a world that is forever changed, one of the best parts of being on the Great Performances team has been the opportunity to reconnect our clients with something that’s felt lost. With each holiday party crowd that rejoiced in being together again, each non-profit organization that gratefully opened their doors to energetic donors at in-person galas, and with each lively conversation shared over cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres, the people of this city can again begin to feel it reverberating in their bones. Faint at first, and sometimes so tentative that it’s only just a whisper. But every time people gather and make lasting memories, they add their voices to the symphony of Life that is reinvigorating this wonderful city.

The train was derailed, the ship may have sunk (sorry, Leo) but together we’re finding our way—and that exhilarating NYC rhythm—one event at a time.


By Danielle Madeira

I still can’t believe that it has been 3 years.

Where were you in March of 2020.  Is there a moment that stands out in your memory?

I remember March of 2020 like it was yesterday. I was running the Roth Bar for Hauser & Wirth and we were really starting to become a destination to visit in Chelsea. I was told that my barista and I were going to start alternating weeks because of this new virus that was very contagious and starting to kill people. Later on the week we were told that we would just be closing down for two weeks and so many other places were going to do the same. So, I cleared out all of the fridges, but I knew this would blow over and even left behind all non-dairy milks so we could come back to it after our two-week break. Well, that turned into a very long break and quarantine began.

What about the early days of lockdown do you remember most?

During those first few days of lockdown, I treated it more like a vacation staying up all night, binging on TV shows and making cocktails. Then as the weeks began to pass, I started to organize my entire house and clean everything. I was just looking for anything to do after organizing and cleaning everything. The gym had already been closed for a few weeks, so even though it was still cold out I would go outside every day to get out of the house and do stairs. I remember going to the market and shelves being wiped clean of all water, toilet paper, sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. Finally, I got a call from GP that I would be working from home and helping out with meals on wheels. Shortly after that was over, I received another call that I would be working at the Covid hotel, so I could finally get out of the house 5 days a week.

Quiet street in NYC during Covid. Credit: Great Performances

Were you with or separated from family?

During quarantine I would go see my family a few times a week, since there was nothing to do. I remember taking my dog to play in my dad’s backyard and all the parks were closed, but I would come up with any reason to get out of the house.

How did you adapt to lockdown? Was there any silver lining?

I don’t know if I ever adapted to lockdown, working in hospitality, and dealing with people every single day, then one day that’s it you are just stuck at home with your family and nobody else. It was definitely very hard to process, but I couldn’t wait to get back to work and do what I love. I was also just itching to get back into the gym, which is my other passion in life. I know a lot of people have continued to work from home and love it, but it was very hard for me.

Has the Covid era affected your work or professional aspirations?

Not much of a change in aspirations, just wanting more for myself.

Do you have any family experiences to share?

I am very lucky to say, that I did not have any family die from Covid and when my family members finally did get the virus, they were okay.

How have we changed as a society – what stands out for you?

I feel that people have become a lot more entitled and think they deserve more, even if it’s not merited.  Everyone should want more for themselves, but I come from a home where both parents were immigrants and worked very hard for everything they have now.

What are some of the changes you have made that stick to this day?


What will you remember most about these years?   

This is obviously something that we will never forget, but I feel like what I did during Covid will also stay with me forever.  During quarantine I helped GP with meals on wheels, I will never forget some of the comments we received from people who were so grateful for what we were doing.  Though at times it was crazy, it was worth it after knowing how much we actually did for these people that were unable to leave their homes.  I will also never forget my experience working at the Covid hotel; I was so happy to finally be able to leave my home.  But the most important thing was again that we were doing something great for people; it made me see how much people can actually come together sometimes for a greater good. 

How do you feel about “going back to normal” – do you feel or sense a resistance to it?

I don’t think things will fully be back to normal for a few years.  We see now that the economy is struggling, and people continue to want to work from home, which unfortunately, is affecting so many other parts of the economy.  I have hope that one day we will be back to the normal life we had before Covid.

How you feel about NYC?

I will always love NYC!  This is an amazing place where so many different kinds of people all come together to form a community, you kind find this type of place anywhere else in the world.  It may not be perfect or even very clean, but it’s it will always be my city.  The one NYC memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life is seeing Times Square completely empty, a most amazing sight that I will probably never see again.


By Trevor Buchanan

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented global event that has brought challenges to our lives, especially those living in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. As someone who was there during those challenging times, I saw firsthand the devastation the virus had on the city. The once-bustling streets were empty, and closed businesses were a common sight. The fear of catching the virus was palpable, and the constant sound of ambulances left an indelible mark on me.

But amidst all the chaos, I was heartened to see the kindness and resilience of New Yorkers. The support for essential workers and small businesses was inspiring, and people found new ways to connect and support each other. Whether it was through virtual happy hours or just checking in on each other through text or phone calls, the people of New York City came together.

Personally, the pandemic was a rollercoaster of emotions. Like many others in the hospitality industry, I lost my job and had to navigate the uncertainty of unemployment during an economic shutdown. I also had to cope with being separated from loved ones and the stress of worrying about their health. However, the experience taught me to appreciate the simple things in life and the value of good health, both physically and mentally.

Looking back, the pandemic may have changed the world forever, but it also taught us to come together as a community when faced with adversity. As for me, I’m just grateful that I can now leave my apartment without fear of getting sick.




By Morgan Golumbuk

Embarrassingly enough, I learned to cook during “the COVID era.” By March 2020, I had been working in the hospitality industry for over 11 years but – with enough events to keep me fed and sufficient food knowledge to compile menu proposals without issue – I simply hadn’t needed to learn. Until the events dried up and there were no proposals to compose.

My roommates (read: parents) and I had a pretty sweet deal: they bankrolled the groceries, I shopped and cooked. And I cooked everything. Mapo tofu, spicy mojo meatballs, chicken katsu sandwiches, lemon poppy seed muffins with blackberry lemon glaze, spiced lamb pasta, Algerian-style meatballs with chickpeas, white lasagna, matcha lemon bars, soto ayam, olive oil cake with roasted berry compote, Korean short ribs, popovers with strawberry butter; you name it, I burnt myself making it.

During a time of unspeakable fear and loss, I retained a sense of purpose and self with these tasks in front of me and my support system behind me. I am lucky to share with my family a deep love of food, an even deeper love of being together, and perhaps the greatest proof of love there is: in our home, the person who cooks never has to do the dishes.


By Chris Harkness

I remember hearing the news warn against shaking hands and getting too close to an individual. Not shaking hands, that was the first step in stripping away the norm. On that same day rumors of the city shutting down seemed to be true. It was my last day at my current job at that time, coincidently. 

The early days of the lockdown seemed promising that it wasn’t going to be too long; how can the city shut down for a long period of time? At least that is what I thought, so I had hope, excited to start a new job, in a good place, until the realization that this wasn’t going to end quickly, and that job was never going to start.

My kids were in other states, my daughter in her graduate year, so distance never felt so far. My daughter graduated virtually with her masters but was trapped in Texas. Lots of phone calls, she persisted and found a job. I was inspired by her fortitude. It gave me hope to keep trying and not let it get me down that I had no job, and not a lot of hope to be hired in that climate.

I learned a lot, I discovered my emotions, I read, got a kitten, I changed my exercise routine (which has stuck to this day). I found change in the end, change that as I look back, I appreciate every day. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I do not think I would be where I am today if the lockdown did not happen.