Guest post by Monica Kumar, Endeavor Foundation

Dr. Vivek Murthy who was the 19th Surgeon General of the US believes that the current social distancing and social isolation could lead to a crisis. He identifies healthy relationships as being as essential to our recovery as vaccines and ventilators. Dr. Murthy also sees this crisis as an opportunity to build and fortify our communities and relationships and #bettervirtuallytogether has a mission to do that in our region.

My work with the Endeavor Foundation focuses on building diverse social networks by collaborating with partners that bring people from different socio-economic, racial, and cultural backgrounds together to celebrate uniqueness and identify commonalities.

Until about a month ago I spent most of my time with people in meetings, sharing experiences, and creating events. After social distancing took effect we had to reevaluate our work and pivot on execution.

As I wondered how to build authentic community and social networks in a virtual space, two things became very obvious:

  1. Many people across the region were acknowledging their privilege and incredible luck in being able to continue working from home and keep their kids safe, alongside feeling guilty about sharing any feelings of fear or isolation.
  2. Many people also wanted to 'do something' to help their communities beyond giving money and in ways that could mitigate some of the devastating and inequitable damage people are facing right now.

At the inaugural meeting, we agreed to create space to connect and share without judgment or guilt, have fun, and alongside that, identify community needs and projects to support and complete.

We now have regular virtual connections and have started an active project list that is publicly accessible and shareable. Our goal is to complete acts of kindness across our community while at the same time building deeper connections and igniting new friendships. Some examples of projects are mask making, delivering toys and activity kits to local shelters, and donating food.

Moving the work of collaboration and relationship building into the virtual world has been challenging and frustrating but also enlightening and rewarding. I have met new people in our community doing incredible work and we have built new partnerships and found alternate ways to create authentic positive change. All this while mostly not meeting in person or not having had 'in real-life' conversations.

In shifting how we build social networks and having to redefine what it means to build relationships I am reminded of the way Brene Brown defines connection:

"...the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment" ~ Brené Brown

This time of social distancing has given me the gift of having to look at community and connection in a different way. For that, I feel both privileged and grateful and also compelled to identify new and alternative ways to build diverse social networks online.

If you would like to join the Facebook group you can find us at #bettervirtuallytogether

If you would like to meet a need or add to the list of needs you can find the projects and needs list here.

Monica Kumar is the Director of Diverse Social Networks at the Endeavor Foundation.

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