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2020 taught us we can connect virtually

I realize it’s entirely cliché to look back at the year that just passed, but 2020 certainly was… interesting. I didn’t learn a new hobby or how to bake bread or start a business. I do feel like I learned some things, but a lot of it was reinforcing old lessons I’d kind of forgotten. For example, connections really can be made virtually.

We all learned to use Zoom and FaceTime, and perhaps spent some virtual holidays with out-of-town family. And while it was born of necessity, I do think we made some genuine connections through the wires and airwaves.

To be fair, there are a lot of people I know and love whom I’ve never met, so this isn’t exactly new to me. As a late Gen Xer who was introduced to the internet in college, I found myself exploring sports chat rooms and email list-servs. My old NFL chat buddies are friends of 25 years at this point – we’ve seen each other through a lot of ups and downs through that time — and I also have an extended coaching family who have served as mentors and sounding boards, and whom I also love dearly.

I’ve been advising the ZTA chapter at Susquehanna University pretty much virtually since I left Selinsgrove in 2012, but this past year I wasn’t able to make any visits to campus for homecoming or other events. Nowadays, I consider myself the chapter cheerleader and in addition to my position as adviser, I just try to give them as much love and support as I can through social media.

It meant so much to me to receive a thank you note from one of the newer sisters recently. I haven’t gotten to meet her in person yet and I don’t feel like I can do enough right now, but she told me I’d done a lot for her just by cheering her on.

Creativity and finding ways to survive various stages of lockdown helped new communities form, too. My husband’s college friend, Scotty Kilwein, started playing livestreams on Facebook for fun this past spring when Jellyrolls, the Disney World piano bar at which he works, shut down. The livestreams became a Friday night ritual in our house and we’d let the girls stay up to listen to “Mr. Scotty.”

As the months went on, and Jellyrolls didn’t reopen, Scotty kept playing – and built an online community affectionately known as the PalPals. PalPals are old friends and fans of Scotty’s from all corners of the globe. I discovered that one of my aforementioned coaching friends, a Disney aficionado, is a big fan of Scotty and Jellyrolls – but we all became friends with each other.

One PalPal makes handmade cards and sent them to anyone who wanted some to share. We have PalPal merchandise! We chat with each other through the livestreams and have come to support each other through the rougher days, which are always made better with some music from Scotty and his kids. His wife, Amanda, serves as executive producer, so she is rarely in front of the camera, but is a very important part of the livestreams.

And best of all, we PalPals rang in the New Year together with a four-hour Zoom, watching Scotty play a socially distanced event in Clearwater, Fla. We even let the girls stay up until midnight. I really thought they’d conk out before then, but no…

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to seeing each other in person in 2021, but the connections we’ve made through our screens in 2020 are something for which I’ll always be grateful.

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