Let’s stick together through this strange time

Originally published in the Columbus Telegram

This was not the column I thought I was going to write. I had to planned to tell you about the new Nebraska Community Foundation affiliated fund in Leigh, a dynamic group of young leaders who are doing amazing things as they launch their fund.

But that story will have to wait a couple of weeks.

As you know, much of the world is “on hold.” People, businesses, economies . . . all are experiencing social distancing for the first time. Make no mistake, social distancing is the only rational course of action right now and we’re practicing that in my home and at NCF. We must make that sacrifice now to flatten the curve and avoid the worst of what this could become otherwise.

But my message today is that social distancing should not, in fact, cannot, become social isolation. At the most basic level, humans are social beings. One of our most fundamental needs is to be with each other. Today that has to look different, but we have to find ways. Send a greeting card or a gift, drop off food on a doorstep, simply call and have a conversation with someone . . . just connect!

These are all steps you can take without technology or even internet access. For those who are able, technology provides more options for face-to-face interaction, if not in-person contact. You can do a video call on a wide variety of platforms that allow you to say “hi” and see those smiling faces.

On a wider scale, this is the time for a connection at a community level as well. Our hometowns are also living organisms and just like each of us individually, they also crave connection. As you might expect, Nebraska hometowns are already reaching out to each other to maintain those emotional bonds that matter so much.

You may have seen stories about individuals or families delivering food to elderly neighbors who don’t want to leave their homes. Across the state, you see messages about supporting local businesses however we can help keep neighbors employed.

In the small town of Bennet, their NCF affiliated fund has started a “community challenge” on Facebook. The first challenge is a “Panther Paw Hunt” where community members color or decorate a Panther Paw (their school mascot) and put it in their window for others to see. They are encouraging people to walk or drive around to see all of the creative Panther Paws to build community spirit.

There have been several other examples of this idea being shared in other Nebraska hometowns. In Nebraska City, the Fund is inviting community members to gather every evening on Central Avenue in their cars to wave and honk as a way of thanking healthcare workers. This one reminds me of my misspent youth cruising downtown Columbus!

In Omaha, a group of volunteers came together to sew masks for medical professionals, and they’ve been overwhelmed with responses. We’ve seen telecom providers and media outlets across the state offering help for schools that are doing virtual learning.

Those stories are going to multiply exponentially over the weeks to come. At a time when we’re all seeking good news, this will be a source of inspiration, ideas, and good feelings that we’ll all need!

Bottom line, in this time of needed social distancing we need to bridge that distance in every way possible. Reach out to people who love and people you don’t even know, support local business and local community organizations as you’re able, make somebody smile today. It’s never been more critical and it’s one thing we can all do to help!