Story Submitted by Max Kelly

Before the pandemic: I performed daily. I was in three active improv troupes, and an assortment of other scattered projects. My roommates would joke with me that they should rent out my room during the day; it was vacant all the time! Then, it all stopped. At first, it felt like a much needed break. But, before long, I felt myself missing the creativity I was able to express so frequently. Nothing has been QUITE the same, but I stumbled into other things that allowed me to stay active. Of my three improv troupes, two were comedy based (Quadruple Stuffed Oreos, and Murphy Bed Surprise) and the other was a form that focused on re-telling/honoring stories that were shared by the audience (Playback UCF.)

As for the comedy troupes, here was my replacement: Dungeons and Dragons. What a nerd, right? Well, Monsieur Le Jock, I’ll have you know that sitting down in front of a zoom call with your close friends, alcoholic beverage in hand, and making them laugh with funny voices and role playing is actually a STUPID amount of fun. It’s just like improv: You play a character, they get put in all sorts of different contexts, and you end up telling a pretty cool story (and you’re doing it with your friends.) Every member of the group is into theatre/improv as well, and we’ve created some really memorable moments with just our minds and some laughs. It’s as creative as anything else you can do.

As for the storytelling troupe, Playback UCF, we actually never went away. We transitioned into zoom performances. It took experimenting and a decent amount of work, but we ended up performing several shows that packed the same emotional punch that our in-person shows do. It was rewarding to create something that was polished and legitimate under the circumstances the world is under. We still rehearse, twice a week, and have shared our format with other groups.

Now lastly, I am very proud to say that I am playing a role in one of the first live-shows in Central Florida since the outbreak. The director and producer boldly took on the project: a live, outdoor, drive-in theatre production of Euripides “The Bacchae.” He worked to find and rent an outdoor location where actors will remain 6 feet apart, and audience members will watch from the safety of their vehicles. We began table-work through zoom, and have recently transitioned into socially-distant blocking rehearsals.

From all of this, I learned that people will be able to pursue their passions despite all circumstances. The product may look different than what we’re used to, but it’s art all the same. And! There is a widespread anticipation for a return to normalcy. When people typically go to a comedy show, they buy their ticket because they want to laugh. When they sit down, they are ready and willing to laugh and enjoy themselves. Right now, that readiness and willingness is as powerful as ever. I’m excited to experience it.

Story Submitted by Alexis Labrada

When quarantine began my job closed along with school so I went back home to New Jersey. When I got back I realized I couldn’t see anyone, not even close friends because my dad has asthma which makes him more susceptible to the virus. While I had my sister with me I did not know what to pass the time. At first it was easier to keep busy with my online classes since I had to finish the semester off, but I was not as motivated as I was at school. Once classes ended I really did not know what to do. I was doing pretty well with keeping active as fitness is what I enjoy most. I was doing at home workouts and posting them on my social media to help others get active during quarantine. I also wrote personalized at home workouts for my clients to do since my job was a personal trainer. However, keeping active was not enough to get me through the days. I decided to start taking on challenges. I wanted to be able to hold a handstand for a long period of time, which is so random, but I practiced every day until my wrists hurt. This was something that was fun for me to do daily, but again wasn’t enough. I then decided to get better at speaking in Spanish since my family speaks it so I started to use Duolingo. However, yet again it was not enough so I decided to take on the biggest challenge of them all, renovating my dad’s house. This has been keeping me busy for the last 3 months and I can’t wait to see the end results.

Story Submitted by Kassidy Pierce

I am a graduate of the now infamous class of 2020. After 5 years at UCF, I’m finally graduating with two degrees: a B.S. in Entertainment Management and a B.A. in Theatre Studies. In March, we began our week-long Spring Break and by the end of that week classes had moved online for two weeks, and then the remainder of the semester. While it wasn’t the ending to my college campus experience I had anticipated, we found a way to make the best of it. Instead of an official graduation ceremony, my family organized our own. I “walked” around our pool in my cap and gown and to make it more fun, my family dressed up with me. My mom in her old grad school robe, my dad in a wizard robe and hat, my sister in her wet suit, and my brother in gigantic funky glasses. The real loss I was mourning was the five shows I was producing through UCF’s developmental theatre organization Project Spotlight. This was my third and last semester as Project Spotlight’s Artistic Director after being with the organization for 3 years. Officially, the school was closed and the shows were cancelled. Unofficially, we knew it couldn’t end there. My Leadership team and I immediately started brainstorming ways to celebrate the hard work of the casts, crews, and playwrights in this new time of social distancing and quarantine. Since every part of our shows are done by students, we decided to wait until the stress of the semester and finals was over. We reached out to the directors and casts to see if they were interested in remounting their shows for an online platform. Amazingly, almost every single person was able to “come back” to work on these shows. We organized a three night festival on our facebook page we called OAF 2.0: The Show Must Go Online. Our festival was viewed by almost 2,000 people across all three nights. Getting to work with everyone again, even under the changed and less than ideal circumstances was truly a gift. I was reminded, as I have been again and again throughout my life, of the power of storytelling. I am so grateful to have been a part of this organization and it was a moving end to my time with it. I am not walking out of college into the world I expected, the entertainment industry and theatre may feel the ramifications of this for years to come but I have found that through it all the art survives. The artists will always create. We find new platforms or build them. For now, I take an online acting class, I organize online readings of new plays, I work, I read, I dream, and I plan. The future may look dark but there is always a light, and so we keep moving forward.

Story Submitted by Anthony Mottarella

My name is Anthony Mottarella and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida. I was planning on staying in Orlando for the summer of 2020 until the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled all face-to-face courses at UCF. I instead came back to my hometown of Melbourne Florida, and lived with my mom and 11 year old brother, John. It was extremely nice to spend time with them because I am a very family oriented person and love both of them immensely. Even though I was staying in the same house as them, I sometimes felt that I did not see them enough due to my rigorous work schedule. Right when I came back to my hometown, I asked my former boss if I could have my job back, as a server at SquidLips Over water Grill in Melbourne. My boss immediately texted me back that he would love to have me come back and work full time as a cocktail server. My best friend Sam also works at SquidLips so it was extremely nice to work with him and see him on a daily basis. There were a lot of positive aspects about moving back but there was always the fear of getting COVID-19 because I am face to face with a large number of customers. Also, SquidLips is the second largest restaurant in Melbourne so the odds of COVID-19 spreading through the restaurant is likely. Being an essential worker during the pandemic has shown me lots of things. It has reassured me that I have an amazing family who have the funds to provide me an education and a roof over my head. It has also shown me that the majority of workers at squid lips serve as their main source of income, and by closing down the restaurant, they would not have money for rent and monthly payments. Many employees have also complained that they have not received their unemployment even though they applied in march. The media portrays a lot of fear from the elderly population but I have seen the stress that the pandemic has placed onto our blue collar workers. Luckily, every worker at SquidLips has been financially and emotionally helping each other out, and are moving through this pandemic as a work family.

Story Submitted by Nathalia Candelario

In January 2020, I made the brave decision of pursuing a career with the United States Air Force. I left for basic military training early in January when the civilian world was still very much “normal”. As you may know, while at training we cannot keep or use any cell phones. The only way of communication in regards to what it is like beyond the gates of the base was writing to our loved ones or our instructor telling us important information. Towards the end of January, I had received a letter from my friends and family explaining this concern of a new virus that came up in China, today known as COVID-19, and that it has been spreading fast in China. At the time, training did not change because it had not hit the U.S. quite yet. However, later in February, we were told that they had quarantined a good amount of people from cruise ships on our base. Because the virus still was not big, we were able to graduate as normal and see our families and walk around the city, but we were the last graduating class able to have a ceremony, see our families, and walk off base. After our class, the other classes were not so lucky due to the tremendous spike in cases here. During my job training, I had experienced many limitations, such as having to walk with friends with maintaining social distance, wearing masks at all time, quarantining incoming classes from basic training, having to eat pre-made meals instead of the dining facility, unable to complete fitness tests, not being able to leave base and expediting my graduating date 2 weeks early. All in all, training for all branches have taken a huge turn compared to when I went through earlier in the year and will probably continue to adapt to current situations.

Story Submitted by Mattea Muench

Everyone remembers their high school graduation. For some people, it was important, for others, it wasn’t, but everyone remembers it. Walking across the stage, shaking hands with faculty, holding a diploma, and smiling in photos with family and friends. Whether you’re 85 or 25, everyone has graduated high school the same way. Except for me, and the thousands of other high school seniors impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. When spring break was extended, we celebrated the extra time at home. But as weeks went on and the chances of us returning to school in-person set in, so did disappointment. Would we get to say goodbye to teachers? What about senior traditions? No prom? But most importantly, will we graduate? And how? Some schools immediately decided to host graduations virtually, while others, like mine, drew out their decisions until July, and left us hoping for a proper graduation, only to be disappointed. I didn’t realize how excited I was to graduate, surrounded by my friends and family, until it was taken away from me, and despite putting on a brave face and understanding that it was necessary to keep people safe, I was upset. Nothing, however, brings communities together like random acts of kindness, and boy did my community deliver. My church surprised all of its seniors with gift baskets and yard signs, and strangers bought my coffee for me countless times after seeing my decorated car in drive-through lines. After proper isolation, my friends and I were even able to have a mini-prom, complete with decorations, courtesy of our moms. Is virtual gradation going to make up for the life experience I have to miss? Maybe not, but the love from the people around me is more than enough, and it’s because of them that I, just like everyone else, will remember the spring I graduated high school.

Story Submitted by Amy C. Ragg

As a privileged white woman, I feel wholeheartedly unqualified to speak about the horrifying killings of George Floyd and of Ahmaud Arbery, but silence is not an option.

How is this still happening? How? How is it possible that men of color continue to put their lives on the line just by leaving their houses every, single day? How is it that still today, in 2020, every mother of a black boy has to teach him how to speak, how to stand, how to respond, in the event that he his stopped by law enforcement, to keep him from being killed?
We have to be better. We have to do better.

I want to write something profound and moving, but my words are stuck around the lump in my throat.
I look to my friends of color to help me learn how I can help. Please, tell me what I can do to help be part of the solution, not part of the silence.

We are all we have, my friends. We have to be better.
Please be kind to each other.
Stay safe and be well.

Peace & Love

Story Submitted by Alexandra Wright, The PIBA Foundation

The PIBA Foundation was founded September 2019 by a group of friends that had a passion to help animals and our local communities. After a few years of volunteering with various non-profits, Angel and I decided to start our own. This is the story of People Inspired by All.

The name PIBA, pronounced Pea-buh, was the name of my first dog. I told myself I didn’t want to name an organization after a dog (cliché), but everyone kept bringing her up! When I finally took their advice, I decided to turn it into an acronym. This way, we paid tribute to Piba and were not limited to helping one cause. We were excited to finally have the opportunity to be creative with our giveback efforts!

To date, our team has fed and provided care packages to over 100 individuals and their pets experiencing homelessness, partnered with 3 local non-profits to collect food and blankets for low-income and homeless families, partnered with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful and have cleaned up approximately 50 pounds of trash in Ybor. We have also rescued 61 dogs and cats, which includes strays, owner surrenders, transferred 3 dogs from another rescue that came from a terrible hoarding situation, and 2 dogs who were at the shelter for over 500 days.

Included in our total are two very special dogs, Nala and Bo. Nala was an owner surrender due to her medical needs and Bo is a cancer survivor. Nala drags her back legs due to a possible spinal injury that occurred at 9 weeks and never received the proper medical attention. Bo had a mast cell tumor on his paw and hind end, and his family needed help raising funds to cover the cost of surgery. Through generous donations, we were able to raise enough funds to cover each of their medical exams and supplies, including Nala’s wheelchair.

Our efforts to give back will always continue. Whether it be rescuing 23 puppies and their moms (yes, we did that earlier this year), or fundraising and collecting supplies for a family and animal in need, we will continue to be people inspired to make a difference in our community.

You can find more information on how to help or volunteer at or

Story Submitted by Ann Lehman

Twenty-three years ago, this holiday weekend, I fell in love. Her name was Heidi and she had been part of the foster care program at the local shelter. Friends had adopted her in February, but by May, the teenage boy had grown tired of this precious puppy. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to begin what was to be a 16-year love story. Heidi became my baby girl. She was a dachshund mix with the most loveable personality. She traveled with me from Colorado to Missouri and finally to Florida, never complaining. As she grew older, she developed a heart murmur, glaucoma, and though undiagnosed, doggie dementia. But she never wavered in her devotion to me. Nor I, her. When the time came to let her go, June 30, 2013, my heart was broken. A part will always be with her and forever grateful for the unconditional love she showed. She always knew when I was sad-be it a true sadness or just a Hallmark commercial. She knew I did not like thunderstorms and she would come to sit at my feet, look up at me with those soulful eyes of hers as if to say: It’s ok Mom, I’m here. She still is-her paw print is tattooed to my right wrist so that I may place it on my heart whenever I am missing her.

Story Submitted by Darouny Bounsengsay

As a kid, I never had a pet. My mom was (and still is) allergic to dander, dust, pollen etc. and my childhood home had burnt orange 80s carpet original to the home my parents couldn’t afford to change. I had a pet rock for a science project in 7th grade and my aunt’s house had fish. It was as close as I got. I was never able to understand how people were so attached to their pets. My romantic relationships brought cats, dogs, birds, and even the occasional reptile or two into my life and I loved them all, but I still didn’t really get it on a deeply personal level.

One unassuming evening, I picked up the sweetest little black and tan puppy and fell in love. That’s it. One moment. I instantly understood. I was determined to bring her home and did so as soon as I could. It wasn’t even a week. Ellie Mae, you won me over, little lady. Hook, line, sinker.

At the time I was on the tail-end of a tough relationship, and having my girl there for me got me through one the toughest challenges I’ve faced yet. I sat with her for a number of nights bawling my eyes out and she just licked the tears away – loving me until I was crying over how much I loved her instead of what was hurting me.

We’ve been together a year and counting. She’s still the sweetest puppy and I’ve become that crazy dog mommy who posts constantly about her, cooks human food for her, and gives her anything her little heart desires. My parents finally re-did their floors and Ellie has won over grandma, who asks about her every phone call since there’s no carpet anymore to aggravate her allergies.

My love (and best doggy dad ever) likes to joke my separation anxiety from her is worse than her separation anxiety from me, (lol) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s my girl. I wake up every morning with her snuggled between us and I would do absolutely anything for this little ray of sunshine in my life. I get it now. I really, truly, get it.