I learned how resilient my family and I can be. Resilience is a lot of trial and error to see what works. Sam started a garden that provided some delicious homegrown food for us to eat for the first time. When I first became unemployed, I investigated ways for my family to save money. I cut expenses on things I did not think I wanted to live without, like cable. One of my first full sentences according to my baby book was: “Are there any new shows on tonight?” So, cutting the cord was a big deal but it was really liberating. We saved a ton of money and I wish we had done it sooner! With an antenna for our local news and apps like Netflix and Hulu, cable was a wasteful expense for how little we used it. Most importantly, we learned how to stay close with our loved ones while being physically apart from them. I am thankful this pandemic happened during the era of the internet and facetime.
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life. With that in mind, I created this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Cameron Howe.
Cameron Howe is top of her graduating class in the first Master of Science in Medical Cannabis program in the United States. Cameron sits on the board of a city public transportation bus system and during the global pandemic, Cameron rallied the board to pass the motion that all board members must ride the bus once a year. Cameron has a long-standing history of advocating for vulnerable populations and has dedicated most of her career working in the mental health field with children and young adults. https://www.linkedin.com/in/cameron-howe/
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Cameron! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Absolutely, and thanks for having me. When I was in 6th grade a psychologist assessed me and told my parents I had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia. In her professional opinion, the ADHD was so bad I would likely hit an “ADHD Wall” in high school and not do well at school. She did not believe I would go to college and even graduating high school would be tough. My parents did not believe in her assessment; they believed in me. My parents also knew me and suspected I would use this label as an excuse not to try or to justify why I could not do something, so they did not tell me until I graduated college. My parents were right. Despite being dyslexic, having ADHD, anxiety, and not learning phonics until 3rd grade, I could do anything I was willing to work towards. I might not have learned that lesson until college, but at least I learn it. That empowerment is a driving force in all that I do, but it is also the experiences from my past that have shaped my spirit.
I grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, known as the Hill City, in the heart of VA, with my parents, John & Laura Craddock, and my sister, Carter. Most of my dad’s family lives here and I loved growing up in Lynchburg so much I decided to stay after graduating from college. My husband, Sam, & I have a full house with two daughters, Alden (6) and Sawyer (4), two dogs, and a cat. In the early 1900s, my grandfather’s grandfather started Craddock-Terry Shoe Company in Lynchburg, once nicknamed the “shoe capital of the world.” During its peak, Craddock-Terry was one of the South’s largest employers, and my great-great-grandfather worked hard to take care of his employees. Having the maiden name Craddock served me well when I went into the mental health field. I had one client whose father just could not support my recommendations because at that time I was young, female, and had no children of my own. After our second meeting, he inquired about my last name. When he connected the dots that his parents worked for and loved Craddock-Terry, he dropped his guard completely. I remember the turning point in our relationship distinctly. He looked me square in the eye, stuck out his hand for me to shake, and said, “If you’re a Craddock, I trust your judgment and that your heart is in the right place.” That was that. My client was able to get the services they needed with full support from both parents for the first time. I learned that day that it does not matter what gets through to a family in need of supports, only that the child gets the services they need.
Staying in town after graduating college was a great decision for many reasons beyond the last name; 1. I met the love of my life and 2. I found my purpose in helping others. I graduated from the University of Lynchburg with a double major in Psychology and Philosophy. After graduation, I got a job as a paralegal but after about 2 years, I decided I needed to follow my passion. I got a job at a community mental health agency providing crisis case management to children. I loved it and worked there for nearly half a decade. After leaving crisis services, I moved to the role of site supervisor for a foster care independent living program. Basically, I was the guardian of 8 young people between 16 and 21 years old. It was the most challenging experience, but it was fundamental in my growth. From holiday celebrations to graduations, to new life transitions, I was there for these youth. The youth met my family and it really was a lifestyle. Unfortunately, that lifestyle is not conducive to having two young kids of my own at home.
After leaving the foster care field, I got a job at my daughters’ Montessori school, which was great in terms of being with my girls and not having to worry about childcare during school closures and sick days. Although I loved being a part of such a positive place, I started floundering, unsure of what to do with my professional life. When I heard that the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy was launching the Nation’s first Master of Science in Cannabis program, everything just clicked — this is what I am supposed to do! My grandmother died of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), my mom has MS, and I had epilepsy (petit mal) l when I was little (thankfully, I outgrew it). I knew cannabis has been proven beneficial for those disorders and I had witnessed countless youth self-medicate with cannabis during my career in mental health. I would encourage the youth to tell their psychiatrist or therapists about their cannabis use to ensure no interactions with other drugs, but also to discuss the benefits they receive from cannabis. Almost every time the youth were met with resistance, denial, or referral to substance abuse treatment. I watched parents lose jobs over simple possession, CPS causing trauma by taking children away over a positive cannabis drug screen, and people in poverty face unjustifiable jail time or legal fees for simple cannabis possession. At the same time, people I knew with money or connections would use cannabis without consequences. With the world of academia opening to medicinal cannabis, I realized a fundamental shift was on the horizon and an opportunity of a lifetime was available.
Needless to say, when the opportunity to further my education in cannabis was presented, I took it. Out of an applicant pool of over 500+ completed applications, I was chosen. This two-year medical cannabis science and therapeutics program has been incredible. I am set to graduate in May 2021 at the top of my class with Phi Kappa Phi and Rho Chi honors. The world is open to countless possibilities for my next phase in life and I am ready for it!
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
In March of 2020, the school I worked for closed early for spring break, and the two-week break to stop the spread quickly turned into 3 months. We were able to reopen in the summer and thankfully have been in person 5 days a week since June 2020. The biggest adjustment back is the small group sizes, masks, social distancing, and the “new now” — I won’t say “normal” because to me normal is for the children to see me smile and for hugs to be given freely as needed by little ones.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
I miss the opportunities I used to take for granted — the yard sales, parent/teacher mixers, events where I get to meet new people. I think I am at the point I could even miss invites to pyramid schemes that involve free facials in an attempt to get me to become a seller of some product. I just miss seeing people in person. I miss going to church and worshiping on Sunday mornings looking at the sunlight coming through the beautiful stained-glass in the sanctuary and hearing the children’s moment where kids say the darnedest things. I miss community, hugs, and being in the same room as smiling people.
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
Staying home when sick!! I can remember dropping my oldest child off at daycare, knowing that something was off but with no fever or obvious sick symptoms, I needed her to go to school because I had a vital appointment with a client. I would just pray that my child would not get sick before the mental health appointment with my client. I felt the grind of work and taking time off unexpectedly for a sick child was not on the agenda that day. At times, I would even bring my sick kid into the office and make a bed under my desk because work goes on. COVID completely changed my perspective on that. The pandemic forced almost all employers to re-address their sick-leave policies and expectations. Now, with many employers adapting to remote work, the opportunity to stay home when sick or caring for a sick loved one is more feasible. Some jobs require in-person work, but those that can be flexible are being flexible and those that are in-person have made accommodations for employees to stay home when sick or even when suspecting illness to help stop the spread. That is huge progress and I hope it sticks around.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
When my oldest started kindergarten in August 2020, she had to wear a mask all school day for the first time. I was nervous about her language development because students cannot see the lips and mouth movements teachers make when doing lessons on pronunciation/reading. A few months ago, I asked the school about it and they said this kindergarten class got the best scores the school has ever seen on some standardized testing regarding letter sounds. One of the teachers hypothesized that it is because students cannot see lips move that they are relying heavily on listening to the words and sounds. It seems masks have helped children with their phonic development.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
The start of the pandemic was the hardest for me. I had to mourn my old life. My routine was gone. My job was gone. I was still expected to complete my graduate course work while being unemployed, with a working husband at home with our living room now his office, and two young kids who had a lot of energy and nowhere to go. It was tough.
After some grieving, I decided to focus on what I could control, and I got creative. We had a game night with one of our best friends by setting up two cameras at each house — one camera faced me and my husband and the other faced our Settlers of Catan board. They had the same set-up. We just mirrored each other’s pieces and played virtually. It was surprisingly easy and fun. I tried new hobbies too — like gardening and knitting. It is important to always keep learning.
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
Our family is very blessed in that only a few of our family members have been diagnosed with COVID and none required hospitalization or experienced lasting side effects. However, near the beginning of the lockdown, my great-uncle came to the end of his battle with cancer. Thankfully, before he died his children were able to say goodbye, but the rest of the family could not see him. We still have not been able to celebrate his life or have a funeral. Not being able to grieve together and console each other was hard. He was in a lot of pain before his death, and we know he missed his wife of 58 years who died in 2018. It brought me comfort to know he was no longer in pain and did not have to spend an extended amount of time in his final days in isolation.
OK, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I learned that I could impact real positive change during a pandemic by getting the public transportation bus system board members to vote a requirement for all board members to ride the bus yearly. My first meeting as a board member of Greater Lynchburg Transit Company (GLTC) was in December 2019. Due to deficits in the budget, there was discussion for either a reduction in service (the buses already stopped running between 7–9 pm in some areas and there was no Sunday service at that time) or increase fares (The current rate was 4.00 dollars for day fare, which is 1.32 dollars higher than the national average and only makes up a small percentage of the budget’s revenue). An increase of just a quarter would put us in one of the most expensive bus services in the state and our area has over 20% poverty, so this would be a substantial increase for our riders. I challenged every board member to ride the bus to get to and from work / daily activities before voting on an increase in fare or decrease in services. I rode the bus with my daughters to school/work — we walked a mile in the rain to get to the bus stop and had one bus transfer with a 30-minute layover. What normally takes less than 15 minutes in a car took me one hour and 45 minutes — one way! At the next board meeting, not a single board member with a car had taken me up on that challenge or when I reissued the bus riding challenge at the next meeting. Then, COVID caused the bus system to shut down temporarily, and when service resumed fares were free as part of COVID relief from the federal government. While it was a blessing that fares were not going to increase for the foreseeable future, I still could not shake board members not experiencing the buses for themselves and talking to citizens that ride the bus frequently. With the help of fellow board member, Ben Blanks (the only bus rider of the board) we were to pass the motion that board members of the public bus system must ride the bus at least one day per year. It’s not a lot, but it is a step in the right direction, and the board members agreed to ride the bus during a pandemic so that says something! https://wset.com/news/local/gltc-board-members-will-ride-the-bus-at-least-one-full-day-per-year
- I learned I can make viral TikTok videos (two videos I made at the end of February 2021 got 1.5+ million views each). No one truly knows what is going to be a hit or a flop professionally or online but trying is key to any success. At the beginning of quarantine dabbled in TikTok. I made cannabis education videos but after gaining 18,000+ followers I realized how unfriendly social media platforms can be towards cannabis. So instead, I spent more time learning about different editing software and techniques to make quality content. Then, in February 2021, I got inspired to make a TikTok about toxicity in the workplace. I made a video that was based on my personal experience on a new TikTok account. Within a week the video got over a million views! I turned it into a series — unfortunately, many people can relate to negative experiences in the workplace. The 3rd installment of the series involved knowing your worth and standing up for yourself. That video also received over a million views in a short amount of time. It was incredible! I hope to use this new TikTok account for fun and inspirational content. Here is a fun fact: The TikTok account is named after my grandmother’s cousin, Lady Astor, who was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons — which I think is pretty cool: tiktok.com/@ladyastor.
- I learned I could maintain a 4.0 GPA and get invited to join Phi Kappa Phi honor society. Online schooling is naturally hard for me because I am a hands-on, visual learner, who thrives in an in-person environment. It was challenging to learn the best way to study and complete assignments while at home during a global pandemic. Thankfully, one of my best friends is a nurse who was able to tutor me when I needed extra reinforcement, and my husband kept the kids entertained when I needed to complete schoolwork (so most nights and weekends). They say it takes a village to raise children, and it does. But it also takes a village to navigate life — especially during COVID. With the help of my village and the belief in myself that I could do whatever I work towards, I have been able to maintain my status as one of the top students in the nation’s first Master of Science in Medical Cannabis program!
- I learned how resilient my family and I can be. Resilience is a lot of trial and error to see what works. Sam started a garden that provided some delicious homegrown food for us to eat for the first time. When I first became unemployed, I investigated ways for my family to save money. I cut expenses on things I did not think I wanted to live without, like cable. One of my first full sentences according to my baby book was: “Are there any new shows on tonight?” So, cutting the cord was a big deal but it was really liberating. We saved a ton of money and I wish we had done it sooner! With an antenna for our local news and apps like Netflix and Hulu, cable was a wasteful expense for how little we used it. Most importantly, we learned how to stay close with our loved ones while being physically apart from them. I am thankful this pandemic happened during the era of the internet and facetime.
- I learned schedules and keeping structure helps even in uncertain times. A sense of normalcy in times of uncertainty help ground me and increases my resiliency. Things like Tuesday night girls’ night via zoom, Sunday phone calls and skyping with the grandparents, going to bed normal time, and waking up normal time even though there is nowhere to go, etc., all helped my family maintain a sense of control and focus on what truly matters.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
“You only think you are smart because it is the smartest you’ve ever been.”
I came up with that saying in high school and I believe it remains true to this day (much like feeling old!). I hate being bored and love to try new things (it is like a superpower of ADHD). My love of learning is what kept me busy during the pandemic. I learned to knit — it takes so long to make anything!! I increased my editing skills and tried different platforms for social media. I spent a lot of time focusing on school, reading scientific journals, and updating my cannabis knowledge about ever-changing laws across the country. There is always more to learn, and like cannabis, I want to grow!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Taylor Swift because she has a proven track record of supporting marginalized groups and fighting against systems that promote inequalities and inflict harm on others. The racist war on drugs, the prohibition of cannabis, and the denial of medical cannabis to patients who could benefit from its therapeutic properties, is exactly that. I believe Taylor Swift could be a fundamental and influential ally for this cause.
Plus, I am entering the workforce looking for a job in a field with less than 37% women executives and due to a lack of data, it is unclear how many cannabis industry businesses are owned by women or minorities nationwide. In Ohio (medical), minorities make up 16.4% of plant-touching cannabis business owners and women make up 15.2%, with some owners falling in both categories. Massachusetts (recreational), which is far worse, only has 1.2% minority-owned and 4.7% women-owned plant-touching cannabis businesses. The cannabis industry is projected to reach 30 billion dollars annually by 2025 and there is no time to waste in bringing women and minorities into the rapidly growing market. Taylor Swift could use her reach to make a substantial change in these statistics.
(Sources: https://mjbizdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/women-and-minorities_FINAL.pdf and https://newfrontierdata.com/cannabis-insights/u-s-cannabis-industry-market-projections-up-20-to-30-billion-by-2025/)
How can our readers further follow your work online?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/cameron-howe/ is a great place to start and any future ways to follow me will be announced there.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.
Thanks for having me! Take care!