Community Engagement During COVID-19

By: Erin Mullenix

Now as much as ever, it is important to make efforts to engage our communities and neighborhoods during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

While the State of Iowa has provided guidance and temporary allowances for electronic public meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, those electronic meetings and many digital local opportunities are important.  Across Iowa, local Council meetings, budget and other hearings, and working sessions are being held electronically.  Local communities must still follow the notification and other guidelines of the Iowa Public Information Board.

Over these last weeks, many cities and communities are also beginning to make other programming opportunities digital experiences.  For example, many libraries are offering digital children’s programming, learning experiences, and even loaning and checking-out laptops and computing resources to community members.  Some zoos and other local destinations are connected via social media and are offering virtual tours or activity times.

My own community has also put together near-daily activities, just to keep people engaged, while still allowing social distancing.  Most, if not all, of these activities are free and open to all for participation.  For example, they have created a schedule of items to be placed on front doors or windows that can be counted in a scavenger hunt later on afternoon walks (with social distancing).  Shamrocks, flowers, animals, emojis, funny faces, teddy bears and sidewalk chalk fill the calendar for several weeks.  There was also a “music” night, where anyone was invited to join in playing a designated song at a designated date and time.  And, many nights each week, our community joins the 8:00 wave of light, bringing a flashlight out to their front door or porch to show a sense of community.  

Our school district also created a “parade of teachers” who volunteered to drive throughout the community honking and waving at school-aged kids.  In addition, our school district is preparing some optional educational materials for kids who are at home over the next weeks. These will likely just be a start to the many activities that will be coordinated by social media just to keep folks engaged during this time.  Our local communities will stay strong together, while continuing to provide essential services to citizens.  A dash of fun and social-distance-friendly activates can help us feel connected while we stay at home.

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