Newsletter: May 2020
by Marybeth Leis and Jeff Druery
Students were suddenly uprooted from their routines at a very stressful time of term when the pandemic shut down all in-person McMaster classes and gatherings. Many of them feel isolated and disconnected from the supports in their lives while dealing with the collective uncertainty and fear related to Covid-19. In response to this increased need, we quickly transitioned all our student support to online video conferencing. Thankfully, none of our weekly Reflection Circles, individual coaching and spiritual companioning, student leadership training, extra-curricular courses, or events had to be cancelled! McMaster staff expressed their surprise and gratitude for how quickly we pivoted to continue caring for students in this difficult time. Since then, we’ve worked to set up virtual service placements for our volunteer groups during this time of great need and physical distancing. For the spring and summer term, our weekly groups of students are connecting with isolated seniors, tutoring high school students, offering English as a second language support, creating at-home summer camps for kids at risk, and relating with isolated adults with disabilities.
Young people are dealing with loneliness, disorientation, difficulty finding a daily routine after moving home, and are wondering when they will again be able to dream the dream of their life. They repeatedly express gratitude for Student Open Circles, helping them live with intention and give attention to their spiritual growth during this crisis. Students are deeply engaged in our online gatherings, individual support, and social media groups, including those who had to go back to their home country. A new offering of our Becoming Yourself series began this past week, and it alone has more than 50 participants. As one student reflected: “I know you have been occupied with transitioning Open Circles online and I just wanted to say I feel like I am still getting the exact same benefits out of it & in some ways more! Connecting by video means there is less room for social cues for who will speak next, so I find myself listening more than speaking which is also something I want to work on more.” Through this adversity, students in Open Circle are connecting deeply with each other, and we’ve set up accountability partners and other new structures to help them, as well as recent alumni, strengthen their bonds and support each other.
This crisis is showing us how vulnerable we really are. It is exposing us and demanding we surrender our old ways, providing a threshold into something beyond ourselves. As students are presented with more quiet space and time alone, they are eager to uncover their deeper essence. As the layers of our society’s collective meaning are stripped away, we are companioning young people in examining their personal values and learning to measure life around these values rather than outside pressures or the latest Instagram posts. It’s an opportunity for a reset.
Thank you for your support as we provide care for students and those in need in the broader community during these challenging times. As you navigate the implications of this pandemic in your own life, we’re thinking of you and hope you are well! May you find healing ways to live through this uncertain season.