For the first 16 months of the pan- demic, Pine Tree Society’s Community Support kept clients active, engaged and connected to each other virtually through Zoom.

“For two hours a day, we created a safe space for everyone to talk about what was going on in their lives, to laugh and have fun with friends and participate in many of the activities we normally do together from the safety of home,” said Shelley Zielinski, Director of Adult Support Services at Pine Tree Society.

Connecting virtually, staff and clients got to know each other on a much more personal level through seeing each other’s pets, kitchens and neighborhoods as they shared interests, cooked and exercised together each day.

“It strengthened relationships,” Shelley continued. “It was a place where we could have real time conversations. People were able to maintain their friendships and when we returned to in-person this August, we all already knew what was going on in each other’s lives. It was like we’d never left because there wasn’t a year and a half gap.”

Being together via Zoom each day also gave a level of comfort to guardians and home providers that Pine Tree Society shared a unified goal to ensurepeople didn’t lose contact and remained connected and engaged.

Community Support clients and staff recently spent a day exploring at Pine Tree Camp experiencing the restorative benefits of nature after months of virtual programming.

It pushed all of us to get out of our comfort zones and try new things,” Shelley said. “It pushed the envelope around what all of us thought was possible. For example, we had people who were working on budgeting so we created budgets together on the screen and talked through the scenarios that could happen, such as what if you spend more money than you have. It was rewarding to see real growth in money skills from week to week.”

After more than 6,000 hours of virtual programming, the Community Support participants and staff came back together in-person in August.

“For people new to our program, instead of being a stranger, they had friends already,” Shelley recalled. “They walked in the room and said ‘Oh hey, I saw you on Zoom!’ Zoom gave them an introduction to peers and the chance to start friendships and get to know staff.”

Although the majority of people were able to come back together in-person, for those who were not, Shelley and her team coordinated a special Zoom meeting shared on the screen in the program space so those who were there could say hello to those who were not and catch up.

“It’s been great getting back into the routine of seeing each other in-person again,” Shelley concluded. “There’s so much value in being able to be in the same space. We all really enjoy spending time together and people were ready.”

Learn more about the program and how you or a loved one can register at this link.


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