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West End porch becomes home for ‘Pandemic Support Squad.’

West End porch becomes home for ‘Pandemic Support Squad.’

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Kim Wilson describes her porch as a main character throughout the pandemic chapter of her life.

It’s been a regular gathering spot for she and her girlfriends after the kids have gone to bed, a COVID-safe way for them to maintain their friendship and nourish their souls.

It’s provided fresh air and sunshine — a welcome change of scenery during work days when those boundaries between home and office can blur.

And it’s served as a safe haven for some difficult conversations between women who are willing to listen to each other, despite their differing views.

The wraparound porch of her 1890s Queen Anne Victorian home on the downtown side of Winston-Salem’s West End neighborhood is eclectic and inviting. Wilson, a mental health therapist, moved there with her 7- and 9-year-old sons less than two years ago.

When she bought the home, a portion of the porch had been damaged by termites. When it was rebuilt, some of the original woodwork and detailing was salvaged and restored to its previous state. The restoration was complete just before the pandemic.

“I didn’t realize just what a big role it would play in my life this year,” she says.

The porch encircles the house and includes seating areas with rocking chairs and swings that face each other. Another area accommodates a dining table and chairs. Her family frequently eats there. Furnishings are vintage and charmingly mismatched — a mix of consignment sales and roadside finds. She kept some pieces, like the blue rocking chairs with chipped paint.

Wilson’s porch truly serves as an extension of her home. She even bought a propane patio heater so that gatherings can continue through the winter. Her core group of girlfriends — they call themselves the Pandemic Support Squad — can still sip tea, relax, and enjoy each other’s company.

But Wilson says her porch also served an even greater role this year. She began inviting small groups of women she knew with opposing political views to simply sit and talk. She saw it as a way to address racial and social justice issues that troubled her. These spontaneous, informal, and nonthreatening porch chats were meant to foster understanding between the women.

“I wanted to utilize my circle of influence,” she says. “I don’t know how those friends ended up voting in November. No one said, ‘I’ve changed my mind because of you.’ If anything, I learned more about what makes people vote one way or another.”

It was more important to have the conversations and to open the door to better understanding, she says.

“We can leave bread crumbs that people might choose to pick up and maybe make their own loaf out of,” she says. “Those people who left bread crumbs for me don’t even know the impact they had on me, and I don’t know if I will ever know either.”

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