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What cannot be duplicated in a digital space

The pandemic taught us that a lot of things can happen efficiently from a distance. It helped normalize working remotely, delivering groceries and even contactless delivery. I’m grateful for all of these things in my busy life even when I’m not trying to “flatten the curve.”

However, recently I was reminded of what cannot be duplicated in a digital space. Humans are wired for connection and a sense of belonging. And while Zoom meetups are great, there’s something to be said about being there.

A colleague shared a flyer with me about a local community center looking for volunteers to help build their new playground. Three years ago, their playground was flagged by the state as deficient, and their center was cited for noncompliance. It was old play equipment that was simply outdated. They received a grant from KABOOM! To replace it. KABOOM! is a national organization with a focus on playground equity, making it possible for all kids to have the same opportunities to play.

Part of the KABOOM! model is to include the community in making the play space happen. It builds relationships, fosters trust and creates collaborations that will serve the space and the community into the future.

It gets people outside, putting their hands to work on a common goal with fellow community members. I showed up a little uncertain the big day of the playground build. Would they have something I could help with? I thought of nuts and bolts and giant corkscrew slides. Then I thought of my arthritic hands and back.

The organizers did in fact think of how everyone at every skill level could contribute. I worked with three other people to paint an alphabet caterpillar and a long train on the asphalt. Both snaked through the parking lot. I didn’t need to put on a tool belt, spread gravel or mix concrete; I could dip a brush in paint and make a difference.

More than 150 community members and CarMax employees participated in the build. It felt good to be of service, to connect with community members and feel a sense of ownership in making the neighborhood better for the next generation.

I know that COVID-19 is still a thing, but as a society we are getting back to some sort of normalcy. I’m grateful for the modifications that technology brings. I love the hybrid model of my job. I can spend a couple of days a week in the office and a few of them at home. If I have a cold or if I’m just not feeling like myself on a particular day, technology provides the flexibility for me to work in whichever environment is most productive.

However, getting out there to work side-by-side with others on a community project once again boosted my spirit and restored my faith in humanity. Let’s face it: a lot of unneeded angst happens in front of a digital screen. My time volunteering helped me feel more connected, relevant and like I belong. As we move back into the world in ways that were more familiar before the pandemic, let’s remember our civic sensibilities and spend some of our precious time connecting with our neighbors and growing our communities.

Check out Bonnie’s weekly YouTube videos at https://www.youtube.com/bonniejeanfeldkamp.

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