MISSOULA - March is Women's History Month and to celebrate, we're highlighting women who helped their communities survive and thrive during the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Missoula small-business owner Samantha Schmidt is one of them. Like so many business owners at the start of the pandemic, Schmidt had to make some tough decisions at her physical therapy clinics.
"At that point in the pandemic, we didn't know what -- what to do. We didn't have the protection. We didn't know what we needed for the proper protection," she said.
Schmidt and her two female co-owners had to think fast, "we spent so much time together trying to just, you know, not just get through the pandemic, but thrive."
That meant adapting. PPP loans, grants and cost-cutting measures helped. And the clinic eventually pivoted to remote appointments when they could.
"I think we just kind of...said, 'the most important thing is to keep as many people as possible safe and keep our community safe’,” Schmidt continued. "And so, you know, once we decided that that was how we were going to make decisions, that was our compass."
Elizabeth Laatsch was one of Schmidt's physical therapy patients.
“She was instrumental in my healing," Laatsch said. "When one or two providers thought that my case could be closed. It was just the beginning of, I think, true healing by working with Sam."
Schmidt's love of problem-solving is what led her to physical therapy. And it came in handy as she juggled running a business and a household with two kids suddenly in remote learning.
"It's okay that I might not have the solution," Schmidt said. "But that I'm willing to try and I'm willing to find whoever can help me and listen and be curious about how they might think this problem could be solved. I think that's where you really get things done is understanding that everybody can offer something different to contribute and that's where you're gonna make an impact,” Schmidt continued.
The impact didn't stop at work and home. Schmidt's compassion stretched beyond her patients and family to the community.
"Early on in the pandemic, we contacted probably over 300 different other businesses in town and really tried to get folks to understand the importance of masking this is obviously before vaccination. And so, we created that campaign, Keep It Covered, and just you know, just trying to get everybody working together to protect those that are really vulnerable," she said. “I think that women in general, our power is tend and befriend. And I just think through the pandemic, like that was such a critical skill. Like we're all in it."
Schmidt hopes when her kids look back on COVID-19 and the role their mom played, they feel empowered to make their own impact.
"I hope that when they reflect on the last couple years that they can see that and that you know, a little pebble can make lots of ripples. That's good you know, that anyone can make a change," she said.
Some words are for Schmidt's daughter, specifically, as we celebrate Women's History Month, "for her, I think she has a lot of confidence in being able to do hard things. And I love that. I love that we can do hard things."
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