By: Waverly Ann Harris

As we all started to hear the news and the reports from China, then Italy, then Washington state about COVID-19, anxiety and fears started to consume our thoughts. As a human services nonprofit, Friends Life Community has always depended upon face-to-face interactions and human connection. We have fought against social isolation and have made sure that the Friends were integrated into the community with the values of their contributions. And we had spent over twelve years building relationships and programming that allowed the Friends to learn through hands-on experience.  

In March of 2020, we found ourselves asking the same question as most all service organizations and companies, what does this shutdown mean for us? And how are we going to protect the mission and the integrity of Friends Life Community?  

We are nowhere close to seeing the end of the COVID-19 saga. And still many people are suffering with the health and economic impact. Yet, even in the darkest of times, unexpected blessings appear.  

1) Social Distancing Has Brought Us Closer

Who would have thought that we would spend more time with each other when we are forced apart? Through online classes and meetings, Friends Life Community is able to offer over 40 hours of socialization and meaningful learning opportunities to all Friends. Shared time together has become more accessible and has created new friendships and more opportunities for participation. In addition, families have gotten first-hand view of the talented staff who provide quality programming and the staff have been able to collaborate with co-workers in new ways with more creative outcomes. The challenges and problem solving has brought us all closer together and has provided even more opportunities for Friends to grow personally, develop socially, and experience community, though differently, together. 

2) Classes Aren’t Just For Friends Anymore

When we first decided to make online classes a priority, we were wanting to provide the Friends with a sense of daily routine, time to connect with their peers, and enough engagement to provide families with respite or time to work from home. We didn’t expect so many family members to join the classes and participate as well. From cooking, to composting, to dancing, to art, many of the Family members have participated and added value to the classes, as well as appear to be getting a lot out of the classes too. We underestimated the value of providing activities that the families as a whole could participate in together. It has given parents and siblings meaningful activities to do alongside their Friend, sharing in the laughter and fun. We had intended to engage the Friends during this crisis, we didn’t expect that we would help facilitate happy memories for the whole family to share and remember in this unprecedented time. 

3) Our Community Has Grown

First schools closed. Then we decided that it was in the best interest and health of our Friends and family members if we suspended in-person programming for Friends Life Community. At that point, it became clear that the Friends were not the only individuals who would now have to return to their homes and have few opportunities to engage in community. As a team, we decided that we would take advantage of online technology to expand our capacity and reach to create even greater accessibility. Though we have all missed meeting in person, the crisis has forced us to be innovative and as a result, we have gained Friends. Through online classes, transportation is no longer a barrier. Individuals in rural areas who formerly had few opportunities in their hometown can now access classes with peers. We have grown by 10% in our first few weeks. As we continue to evolve, we will expand our outreach because we believe that Everyone Deserves a Place to Belong, and we didn’t expect that COVID-19 would enlighten us to the resources that would allow even more individuals to experience belonging.