September 17, 2020

Community Friends in the Time of Covid19

Learn how Community Friends are adapting during this time of social distancing, masks, and climate fires. Even during a pandemic, our Community Friends Program matches international students with local residents to make them feel welcome and at home during their time at Lewis & Clark College.

In a typical year, I introduce everyone in person. But as we all know too well, 2020 is far from typical.

Typically, 60-100 international students take me up on my offer to match them with Community Friends. These volunteers are local residents who help each student participant feel welcome and at home while they’re studying at Lewis & Clark. At their first Meetup, I spend time helping them get acquainted over icebreakers and sometimes over coffee in The Trail Room. From there, I help them plan their first adventures together, nail it down on their calendars, and make sure they exchange contact information. These friendships have the potential to last far beyond their time at LC.

Typically, Community Friends Program participants check in with me throughout the semester and beyond. They share pictures of fun times together apple picking in autumn, text about cozy winter dinners, and tell me about unforgettable hikes together at the coast. The Community Friends Program serves our students where classes leave off, providing them with opportunities to cultivate off-campus friends who can take them places both physically and emotionally that they may not otherwise experience.

Flash forward to 2020. How do we serve our students who can’t yet meet in person? In a time of isolation, how do we make them feel connected when some remain in their home countries for now, preparing for future arrivals in Oregon?

2020 is exceptional. Thankfully, so are our students and volunteers. Instead of giving up or waiting until in-person connections can be made again, everyone recognizes the myriad ways we are learning to grow community in spite of our current challenges. 

Our crack team of volunteers has stepped up to meet their assigned students over Zoom and video chats, and both local and remote students are eagerly signing up for the chance to connect. During this time where our entire campus practices our “We B4 Me @ LC” health and safety plan, we’re learning many new creative ways to develop friendships. Online games, synchronous movie watching, chatting, and talent shows come to mind, but last week, I learned another great way: sharing favorite stuffed animals!

As Nada and her new 6 year-old Community Friend Max [pictured above] have shown, we can share our prized possessions over the camera, regardless of the pandemic and in spite of the wildfires. First, Max showed Nada many of his precious “stuffies.” Then Nada walked off-camera and returned with a treasured possession of her own. When Nada shared Dumbo with Max, his smile lit up our Zoom screens. Then he started planning for a day in the not-so-far-off future when Nada can have dinner at their house. “You could come for a sleepover!” he suggested. “Bring the elephant!”

Community, sharing, and hope—all creative acts during this time of Covid19. There’s nothing typical about that.