The Spirituality Network in Columbus, Ohio, is a community-based organization that thrives on connecting people with resources for spiritual growth through education, training, and conversation. Uniting people to meet together in person is a central part of their work — a part that has been challenged during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Spirituality Network’s Women to Women groups, which received a grant from Mary’s Pence in 2019, regularly meet at 8 different locations throughout the city for regular sharing sessions and mutual support for women in difficult life situations, such as homelessness, drug addiction, and coming out of incarceration. “The idea was to give women a place to be able to share their stories without criticism or judgement,” explains Executive Director Dr. Renee Wormack-Keels.
Women talk specifically with mentors about the issues affecting their lives and discuss ways to address those difficulties. Dr. Renee says the conversations–especially now around the issue of race and racism– can sometimes be uncomfortable for participants. “But,” Dr. Renee says, “it is our vulnerability that I believe will help us to confront these issues. Being willing to have the conversations.”
The in-person meetings and conversations are critical to the Women to Women program, but like other community-based organizations, when the risk of COVID-19 became apparent in mid-March The Spirituality Network was forced to think of creative ways to bring people together at a safe physical distance. “It became essential for us to think about ‘How do we stay connected when we can’t be with one another.’”
The online meeting platform Zoom came to the rescue in a big way. Board meetings, group listening circles, the Women to Women program, and even an annual fundraising breakfast event have all transitioned to using Zoom. Dr. Renee admits it’s been a learning curve for everyone, but she’s been amazed at how people have adapted. “It’s been great to see so many of our seniors who are just jumping on and getting with technology.”
But even Zoom, which requires a solid internet connection for each participant, has its limits. Not everyone has a computer or a phone with cellular data to access the Internet. And The Spirituality Network only had one paid Zoom account, which is required for hosting meetings longer than 45 minutes. Dr. Renee says she was grateful when Mary’s Pence Grants Manager Robyn Browning reached out to inquire about program challenges in the face of COVID; Robyn asked whether there were any resources needed to be able to continue their work. When Dr. Renee inquired about getting an additional Zoom account, Mary’s Pence issued an emergency $750 grant to pay for an additional Zoom account, as well as provide extra money for discretionary general operating costs.
The Spirituality Network is also working with community partners, like the local YMCA that hosts a regular Listening Circle for women. The organization provides an Internet connection allowing the Woman to Woman group to connect a computer to project the screen on a large TV and allow for socially distant gatherings.
Although the programs have been modified to accommodate online gatherings, Dr. Renee says other parts of the work–like an annual fundraising breakfast–are more difficult to shift to online. But they keep brainstorming and talking with community partners to make decisions that are safe and effective for everyone.
“These are challenging times for everybody,” says Dr. Renee. “We are just trying to find our way through it and make our work continue to happen.”