Spaced apart, isolation yield different results
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change the face of traditional interaction, the world is trying to adjust to life beyond arm's length.
For a local nonprofit like Community Renewal, where building intentional relationships is the key goal, that can seem like an epic challenge.
No, one doesn't necessarily need a hugfest to be neighborly, but at a time where gatherings are discouraged and masks and invisible six-foot barriers are a constant thought, it can easily thwart plans like backyard barbecues with friends.
“I believe, because of our current need to be in our homes, that neighbors are a primary line of defense in this season of COVID-19,” Zoe Loeser, director of neighboring at Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County, said.
“Research shows that healthy neighboring relationships impact many of the challenges we find in our community,” she said. “On the individual level, good neighboring is effective in fighting isolation and loneliness. More broadly, healthy neighboring relationships also positively influence systemic issues like homelessness, crime, fatherlessness and incarceration.”
Despite the issue of social distancing, there remains a plethora of ways to keep those bonds with others healthy.
“This is a call to action for all of us,” she said, “because we can't do it all by ourselves.”
Loeser suggests picking five to 15 households and exchange contact information.
If info is collected person-to-person, wipe down any doorbells that are pressed or doors that are knocked on, she said.
Texting, emailing or phone calls can be great tools for keeping physical distance while checking in on each other.
“In our DIY, by-the-bootstrap, hyper-individual culture, someone is not likely to come out and say 'I'm scared about losing my job' or 'we're hungry,' “ Loeser said. “Create a safe space by being vulnerable about your fears and concerns in this unknown time. As your neighbors open up in return, listen for cues for physical or economic vulnerability.”
Knowing what resources are available is helpful.
“Local food banks are one of the most essential resources right now; to find yours, go to www.feedingamerica.org,” she said. “Your area United Way will also be a great place to connect to local resources.”
Also, take note of and watch for programs, events and resources shared on social media by helpers in the community.
The first tenet of Community Renewal's neighborhood strategy is to be visible, Loeser said.
“It is not healthy for humans if it looks like a zombie apocalypse outside,” she said. “Enjoy the sunshine. Go for walks. Smile. Wave.”
These types of activities do all kinds of good for stress levels and immune systems — and for that of our neighbors, she said.
“Now is the time for people worldwide to practice the standard of connection,” she said. “No matter what we believe, no matter where we live, we can show up for each other.”
Loeser issues a challenge for everyone to step up for people in the community — not just those who are more mobile.
Even those more physically vulnerable to this virus can participate, Loeser said.
“Lots of good things have happened when people were forced to stay in one spot,” she said. “Isaac Newton discovered gravity. Shakespeare wrote King Lear.”
She said certainly stay safe by physically distancing, but don't let it stop you from making a difference and/or reaching out — write the novel or memoir, paint the picture, build a table, make a phone call; ask for help.
“Show up for your neighbors,” she said. “Show up for the people who don't look like you or think like you or dream like you, because my friends, we are all in this together.”
For practical tips to continue social connections, Loeser can be found on social media (Facebook /zoeloeser Instagram @zoeloeser) or Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County (Facebook /communityrenewalpc Instagram @community_renewal).