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Creating Hope Through Connection: How to Empower Families and Bring Joy During a Pandemic

By Jennifer Kaplan, LCSW-C

If you asked me a month ago to imagine a world where physical human connection was limited to six feet apart, parents/guardians were ‘safer at home’ working and co-teaching their children through remote measures, I would have immediately thought of ‘The Jetsons,’ while simultaneously giving away my age. Add a global pandemic in the mix and I quickly move from cartoon set in outer space to YA novel set in a dystopian universe. What is easy to envision as a fantasy, seems impossible to imagine as a reality, but here I am in the place we find ourselves, which bears the question “How do we collectively come together to support each other through such a drastic shift from normal?”

When I heard the announcement that schools would be closing, I instinctually leaped head first down the resource rabbit hole! I was in my apartment, surrounded by an unreasonable amount of Post-its trying to figure out my next steps. Focusing on something I could control allowed me the brain-space I needed to take a step back. Once I slowed down, I realized the urgency I was feeling had nothing to do with resources. Having access to resources is helpful, but resilience is not built on resources. Resilience is built on connection and I can connect, we all can, we just have to do a little reframing.

At first it made a lot of sense to operate from a crisis intervention perspective, but as the hours turned I knew we were going to need a sustainable model. In order to maximize our impact there needs to be a paradigm shift away from crisis intervention towards a strengths-based community-building model. As School Social Worker’s this crisis has put us in a unique position to build powerful connections through a shared experience with hundreds, possibly thousands, of people at a time, which I believe there is an immeasurable amount of hope in.

I have been working towards building these connections through a series of daily ‘ParentSquare’ posts called “Helpful Hints.” Every post starts with a fairly breezy note – keeping things light and using an intentional and personal tone. My rationale is twofold. First the reality is that this situation does not disconnect us, in many ways it does just the opposite. The distance allows the space for creative linkages to happen between us. Not to acknowledge that would take away from its meaning. The second piece is much less thought out. I do not have the capacity, to present in any way that is not genuine. I want people to feel like I am talking to them, because I am. I am talking to them just like I would talk to a colleague or friend standing before me with less than six feet between us.

The strategies, or “hints” I’m given include some of the following:

  1. A free 21 day guided meditation with Oprah and Deepak Chopra

  2. Virtual dance class with Debbie Allen

  3. Lunch Time Doofles with Mo Wellems

  4. Instructions on how to make a Boredom Jar

  5. A YouTube link that teaches how make a paper fidget

  6. A pdf that teaches deep breathing

  7. Suggestions for relaxation apps like Calm and Headspace

  8. A zillion free educational resources with my favorites highlighted

  9. Links to free audio books

  10. A link to an 8 week resource from NaliniKIDS that connects an SEL skill to a physical activity you can do inside

My intent is to build hope through not recreating the wheel. Our world has changed so much over the past few weeks, with new realities every day it is important for me to highlight how the information has been here all along from YouTube and Pinterest, to Facebook. Not using this space to focus on professional resources makes it all feel possible.

As a School Social Worker, I believe the two important parts of the job have always been to instill hope and foster intentional connections. Despite all that is still uncertain and unknown, I do know that our Social Work remains critically important and this time more than ever is one that I can encourage students, parents/guardians, and colleagues to share in the collective responsibility in providing a safe and nurturing environment that supports the developmental, social-emotional and physical needs of us all.

Author Bio: Jenn Kaplan began her career as a Social Worker in 2003. After receiving her Master of Social Work from The University of Maryland, she worked as a therapist in hospital and therapeutic group home settings. In 2006 she shifted gears and accepted a School Social Work position with Baltimore City Public schools, where she found her niche! In 2008, Jenn moved to NYC where she continued her work as a School Social Worker at Bronx Prep Charter School. In 2014 Jenn became a founding member of The Urban Assembly Maker Academy, a New York City high school built on The Design Thinking process and teaching through doing. In 2016 Jenn moved back to Baltimore and is currently the School Social Worker at Baltimore Design School. In addition to providing mental health services and behavioral support Jenn chairs the SEL Professional learning community where she works with key stakeholders to design school wide programming based on Restorative Practice and Social Emotional Learning standards.

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