The pandemic has left us all feeling isolated. And as things start to open up and schools anticipate opening in the fall it's also a time that we can start to plan, look ahead and see what we can do better. Fall and winter are just a short ways away and as we plan for the increased needs that may come with the pandemic not showing signs of slowing down, we can also find ways to stay better connected.
As a counselor, one of the things that we talk a lot about is connectedness and how important that is. Connectedness is the feeling that you belong or have a feeling of rapport or trust with a particular person or group. I know that as a counselor we must feel connected to our families but we also need to feel that connectedness on a larger scale as well. We need to feel connected amongst our friends, schools and churches and even on a larger scale amongst our neighborhoods and communities.
In my inbox the other day our state crisis line sent an email with news that mental health calls has increased exponentially during the pandemic. Unemployment, being inside for longer periods of time and isolation have all increased the need for mental health services across the board. It has been increasingly difficult to help with all the instability and lack of resources we would normally be able draw from.
There are ways to help though. Where I live community and religion play an important role and I hope that they do in yours too. Here are some ways to help feel more connected in these areas:
Many studies are being done on the importance and rise of religion during this pandemic. The research is showing that having that connection is vital and needed. These ideas on ministering during a pandemic are vital to church groups! We listed a few of the most important ones here:
- Online Services: Having weekly online services is important. If your church is beginning to meet but some members of the congregation do not feel comfortable (or cannot return) yet to services, continue to make sure that they are involved in the services by continuing to live stream or record them for them to view.
- Groups: Check your church roster and those who are checking in frequently via online church services who may not be on your roster. Then divide those members up into smaller groups. It could be based on location, age, interests or other means. Assign a group leader and have them contact and organize weekly online or in person social distanced meetings. Here are twenty virtual activities you can participate in. Having a close connection amongst others of your faith is hugely important. When I first moved to the town I am living in, a local church invited me to participate in a monthly service project. I jumped on it as a way to meet some others in our new town. Immediately I was also placed into a women's study group (a group of about 8 of us) and they have been the only ones to contact me from any religion in my area consistently during the pandemic. That has meant the WORLD to me. All of us woman come from all walks of life, but it has been so nice to receive occasional but consistent texts from them asking how I'm doing and showing excitement to meet up again.
- Include youth and children: Don't forget to include youth and children in small group meetings. These are important and vital to them too! We noticed during the pandemic that our children's religious teachers were just as important as their school teachers. Often at night there wasn't much to do during the pandemic and our kids loved getting online with their church to participate in fun games with some great value and life lessons added in.
- Communicate! Going weeks and months without hearing from a place that used to give you weekly and sometimes multiple weekly updates is difficult. Your congregation needs to hear from you and if not from you then your youth leaders and other teachers and leaders in your congregation. Use this time to highlight members of your clergy and allow them to share a thought and a little bit about themselves.
Your neighborhood is your connection to your outside world. It was awkward during the pandemic (and still is sometimes!) to know how to help your neighbor. Would this neighbor (who normally would love an invitation to dinner) not appreciate me bringing them over some dinner instead? Would they think the food had germs? Or it can be awkward when you're passing a neighbor on the sidewalk and you step into the street and wonder if you're still too close. It can unknowingly start to build a divide within a neighborhood but your neighborhood is your immediate grassroots connection to building unity. We lived in an area growing up with earthquakes, and your neighbors were the first ones you reached out to. I loved these ideas for staying connected:
- Communication: One of our neighbors when the pandemic first hit went up and down the street to collect neighbors names and phone numbers. She then started a text chain amongst neighbors so if any of our neighbors on our street fell ill or needed anything, they could text or we as neighbors could help out. It was interesting to watch this method become replicated across the country. My daughters apartment has also utilized this method. We also found 10 other ways to be a good neighbor during a pandemic.
- Unite the Neighborhood: These ideas are great ways to connect a neighborhood during a pandemic by hosting themed neighborhood nights and involving all the neighbors. These are great ways to get to know neighbors better and help to build unity and trust amongst neighbors by getting to know each other.
Involving the community is also important. We've noticed a lot of fear and misinformation during the pandemic and community ties can help insure feeling a sense of security amongst the chaos.
- Volunteer: This is important. Service brings connection and there are so many ways that you can volunteer during a pandemic! This United Way article offers a lot of creative volunteer ideas.
- Themed Community Service or Neighborhood Nights: Communities can really bring a big sense of service. Host a drive through food bank donation night where people can see community leaders in action. Place signs up around the community with ideas for themed neighborhood nights like the ones above. Redirect city funds allocated for use for yearly city fairs to instead host community drive in theater nights. One city utilized some of their funds to host a drive thru business blitz for residents to get discounts from local small businesses and helped small businesses stay afloat in the process.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS THAT YOU'VE SEEN BUILD CONNECTEDNESS? WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU THINK CAN BE DONE BETTER THIS FALL AND WINTER AS CORONAVIRUS CONTINUES TO HIT?