Family Ties

Campus Commons neighbors find comfort in weekly gatherings

By Seth Sandronsky
September 2020

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and spurred a statewide shutdown, a small group of people had been meeting in a Campus Commons neighborhood on Sunday afternoons.

The outdoor weekly gatherings originated as end-of-the-year holiday celebrations. In time, the neighbors celebrated birthdays and wedding anniversaries. What began as a group of strangers is now a close-knit community.

One of the group members is Linda Dixon, a retired biology professor at American River College. She and her neighbors have continued their Sunday meetings during the pandemic, while exercising the required safety precautions, including wearing face coverings and maintaining 6- to 12-feet distances.

They take other safeguards too. “We don’t share any communal food or drink,” Dixon says. The group members bring their own snacks and libations.

Their Sunday afternoon meeting place is Kiefer’s Alley (named after a neighborhood cat, known and loved by all) that connects their homes. Along with the subject of pets, mainly canines and felines, family is a favorite conversational topic. Family also describes the ties between the neighbors.

“We have developed friendships that are close to family ties,” Dixon says. “It’s really good to have contact with your neighbors. We all have the feeling that we are looking out for each other.” For example, when a group member is absent on a Sunday, Dixon and her neighbors find out why.

Rebecca Sessums is a retiree and one of Dixon’s neighbors who participates in the Campus Commons meetings. A graduate of McClatchy High, Sacramento City College and Sacramento State, Sessums and her husband moved away from the capital city for 30 years. He worked in financial services. She worked in the real estate business.

The Sessumses, who also volunteer with the American Cancer Society, moved back to Sacramento six years ago and joined the Sunday gatherings. “We fell into the nicest neighborhood, warm and welcoming,” Sessums says. “Over the years we’ve all become friends.”

This pre-pandemic friendship among the neighbors in Campus Commons stands strong. In late March, Sessums mentioned to Dixon that the group try something new. The idea was to meet outdoors while respecting the coronavirus public health measures. Sacramento’s mild weather helped chart this course.

“I asked Linda if she thought that we could get a party with just our neighbors outside,” Sessums says. They had doubts about whether other group members would join them, a reasonable assumption at the time. “I thought that we could meet for a cocktail and socially distance,” Sessums adds. “Everybody ended up wanting to join.”  

That development speaks volumes about their strong neighborhood ties. Forming and sustaining the cohesiveness of this group is a testament to the participants. “Over the six years we have gotten to know each other, discussing our past and future lives,” Sessums says. “But not too much personal stuff. We have gotten to know each other more since March, though.”

Interestingly, as the November elections fast approach, politics is not a topic of the group’s conversations. “I do not know who is Democrat, Independent or Republican,” Sessums notes.

With the pandemic generating uncertainty about life in ways big and small, the neighbors’ weekly socializing has blossomed as a comfortable harbor. The certainty of their group’s regular in-person communications is a source of renewal. 

Despite and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Campus Commons group has forged an increased appreciation of sustaining their special time together. Paradoxically, the isolating character of the pandemic’s public health measures has strengthened their ties.

“It has turned out to be a much closer relationship since we have had to stay at home so much,” Sessums says. “The group has been a fascinating experience.”

Seth Sandronsky can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.


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