By Tara Bitzan, executive director, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce

Wow, what a plot twist we are experiencing in the story of Alexandria, Minnesota.

The storyline we were following was about a vibrant, thriving community that celebrated many successes, including being named Retail Community of the Year in 2018 and Best Minnesota Town last fall.

Then the story turned to one of devastation when a fire destroyed some of our historic downtown buildings, displacing businesses and residents and causing disruptions for neighboring businesses.

The silver lining to that chapter was the fact that no one was hurt, the fire was contained to only a few buildings when it could have easily destroyed the entire block, and the community rallied together in support of those impacted. Businesses and residents donated supplies and money, fed the firefighters and responders, found shelter for those displaced and kept asking over and over, “What can we do to help?” The Chamber, the city, and agencies such as United Way received many calls from people wanting to help.

And then, before the smoke even cleared, we turned the page to find another twist in our story – one that we certainly didn’t expect. A global pandemic.

The pandemic closed even more businesses in our community, as well as schools and churches, and forced the cancellation of numerous community events. People were told to stay home and our lives were changed in ways that we have never before experienced.

And along with fires and pandemics come economic hardships.

The Alexandria Lakes Area has flourished in recent years. Our tourist seasons have been busy, our downtown storefronts have been full and active, we have served as a regional hub for shopping, dining, entertainment, health care and education.

Now, like many towns across the country, businesses are closed, the streets are quiet, and we are all wondering what comes next.

The best part of our story is that our community isn’t waiting for the pages to turn to see what happens. Instead, our community members are working to make sure the story of the Alexandria Lakes Area goes the way we want it to go.

The leaders in our local health care systems, schools, businesses, service sectors and government offices have been working around the clock to be proactive and do everything they can to lessen the impact of this pandemic.

Their research, collaborations, communications and carefully made decisions are helping to write the next chapter of our community. Their work is setting us up to experience the story line we are all praying for – one where the coronavirus claims very few lives in our area, the residents in our senior care facilities are safe and well cared for, our children are safe and able to continue learning, our residents are safe and able to access the things they need, and sufficient resources and assistance are made available to help our businesses reopen and recover as quickly as possible.

But we all know “it takes a village.” Every single one of us plays an important role in how the next chapter unfolds for our community.

What’s your role? Do all those common sense things you’ve been told over and over to do – wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, maintain social distancing, stay home.

But there is more you can do. Think about others, be kind, be respectful, be thoughtful in all that you do. Make phone calls to check on your neighbors and friends – pandemics can be just as damaging mentally and emotionally as they can be physically. Sew masks, donate money, do yard work or other tasks for caregivers who are putting their lives in danger every time they go to work.

And finally, be positive and share words of positivity with others.

Let’s pledge to not only work together to get through this, but also to work together to rebuild once it passes so that we may again celebrate our vibrant, thriving community.

A unified community is a strong community, and we’re all in this together.

Tara Bitzan is executive director of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.