Almost nine months into moving our peer support groups online via Zoom, we wanted to share some reflections on what we've learned about facilitating in the virtual realm. You'll hear from staff Coordinators and volunteer Facilitators about what it's like to try and create a safe, welcoming community for those in grief, even when that community is a collection of tiny squares on a computer or phone screen. Read on to learn more!
One of the biggest changes is how different pre- & post-meetings are. Since each group is just one staff person and one or two volunteers, the meetings are much shorter and less structured. We still focus though on what came up for us during the group and have time to problem-solve any challenges. Attendance is also a shift in that there's no commute, making it easier for families who used to battle crosstown/cross river traffic during rush hour. This is especially true for the Pathways adult groups as more people who are living with an illness can attend, even on days when they aren't feeling very well. The trade off though is that families don't have the transition time together before and after group. One other unexpected benefit is that every group can become a memorabilia group! Kids tend to organically bring photos, favorite toys, blankies, and even ashes to the group.
~ Alysha Lacey, Program Director
I miss the energy of when we met in person. Those moments when a new group member looks around and feels less alone for the first time in probably a long time; but with the virtual groups the magic of comradery is still there, it just has different pauses and spaces where folks find connection. I will say with ALL honesty that I do not miss the camping chairs at TDC. Though, I am sure many group members don’t know the group is over now without hearing my signature exhale as I heave myself off the floor.
~ Rebecca Simon, facilitator in a Young Adult Group for those 26-40
I appreciate that virtual groups still allow us to hold space for the families and give them an opportunity to feel less alone in their experiences right now. There is a lot I miss about in-person groups-- taking a moment to breathe together before an adult group, sitting in rocking chairs, being able to read non-verbal cues and just hearing the chatter between families before and after meetings. Zoom is a form of connection, but it can still feel a little lonely.
~Aimee Craig, facilitator in a Teen Group
It's great that we can still bring music and art Into the groups via sharing our screens. I've shared clips from our Recording Resilience documentary series, posts from our friend Natalie Adams at Teenage Grief Sucks, and even just playing music while teens and kids work on prompts and activities.
~ Kate Sherwood, Family Services Coordinator
Here's what feels different to me: there's no free-wheeling unstructured time and the groups are more linear and less individually and collectively creative. What's the same though is the warmth. Even in a virtual group, you can feel the heart connections.
~ Emily Johnson facilitator in the Pathways Kids group
Virtual groups are definitely weird and can be awkward, but then again, in person groups could be awkward too right? A new realization is finding myself leaning so far into my computer screen, trying to FEEL what the participants are conveying. Back during in-person groups I would sink far back into the pillows to create a physical buffer between me and the emotional content, but with the virtual disconnect, it’s the opposite. (Dittoed 100,000,000 x's by Kate!) I'm grateful that the magic still happens – the magic of someone saying, “yes, exactly – that's exactly what it feels like, I’m so glad I’m not the only one.” It’s also fun seeing how creative people get with candle lighting. Since they can bring anything as a "candle," we’ve seen pen-candles, hand-candles, plant-candles, puppy-candles, and my go-to: the sparkle corgi glitter snow globe-candle. (Might I add- toy light saber-candles too ~ Kate). It was a game changer when I figured out how make breakout rooms work as they let us recreate that hangout time for teens where they can talk in smaller groups. Just like in person, folks who always pass in the larger group tend to open up in the smaller break out room time.
~Jana DeCristofaro, Community Response Program Coordinator
I was nervous about volunteering with a group on-line (what can I offer without any in-person play?) but with my first view of the kid's faces on the computer screen it all seemed good and even somewhat natural. There were two groups of siblings--pestering each other--and my only frustration was not being able to leap through the screen and sit in-between them!
~ Joe Guth, substitute facilitator in a kids group
Virtual facilitating is very different. We can't use body language the same way and it can be harder to chime in and connect. You have to listen more carefully to what the person is saying because often we can't see or hear them well. You have to look closer at everyone's facial expressions to read the dynamic of the whole group. The pace of the conversation is slower. Side conversations can't happen, so 1:1 connections are less likely. But I love how I don't have to leave my house!!
~ Ellie Russell, facilitator in the Thursday Teen group
I had no idea what to expect when I signed on to co-facilitate a virtual group. It was really wonderful seeing the kids start to pop up in each Zoom box, and hold space for one another, even virtually. Each child, even the youngest, had time to share and be heard. Even in a short session, it seemed deep and meaningful connections were made.
~Hallie Shapiro, substitute facilitator in a kids group