By Rebecca Shurtleff

As everyone has made the transition to learning and working from home, the need to connect and communicate has never been greater. This comes paired with a heavier reliance on technology – more specifically, the internet. Online platforms have become a key component of Wildwood’s outreach. In addition to sharing regular updates and information via social media, email, and the original Wildwood website, the Foundation has found ways to host fundraising events; the school has created their own resource site with educational and fun activities; and Wildwood has started to utilize Google Sites in an effort to branch out and share resources specific to COVID-19 with staff and families.

“Information overload” was a possibility at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a great deal of information coming from all sorts of sources, Wildwood created new agency-based sites specifically related to COVID-19. The primary hope was to collect this information and store it all in one, organized place. The Family Resource Site was created as a way to reach families and community members. It is separated into easily accessible topics, ranging from medical information, community resources, support for mental and behavioral issues, and other areas that families may need assistance with at any point. The Staff Resource Site collected HR documents, internal communications, and external references to keep Wildwood employees as up-to-date as possible.

The School-based Resource Site has proven to be an integral part of virtual learning. Lessons, activities, and connecting with students are the focus of this Google site. Here, it’s easy for teachers and school staff to share their classwork in a variety of formats including YouTube, Word documents, links to external websites, and photos, among other things. While the information primarily relates to Wildwood Schools, it’s been found useful by many families and other agencies around the Capital Region as they help support people with learning and developmental disabilities.

Across the agency, departments have found video chat a fairly easy, important way to continue connecting. Meetings held through Google Meet have allowed for “face to face” conversations and the continued feeling of togetherness. Employee recognitions and virtual parties have been held as a way to keep the spirits of Wildwood high. Video chat has also proven to be a very important part of programs, as Wildwood staff reach out and routinely touch base with individuals that are at home and may be struggling or missing their day-to-day friends and activities.

Videos being posted of celebratory car parades, texts/phone calls/emails to check in, and social media posts that share happy thoughts and important information – none of these would be possible without technology. Even residents of Wildwood supported apartments have been finding new ways to keep active, participating in activities like Virtual Bingo games, Wii Bowling, and Facetime meetings with friends and family members. All of this helps foster connection with people that are outside of the home. And, while there are still many people who lack access to the internet, Wildwood initiatives such as the “Sharing is Caring” drive have helped with outreach in this area. Through Sharing is Caring, program directors connect with families and individuals that we support via phone call to check in and assess their needs. Then, they help pair these families with activities that they can do at home. Gently used and no longer needed items like puzzles, books, toys, and board games that have been donated get collected, cleaned, and shared as alternates to things that are computer-based.

The creativity that has originated out of this need to connect is something can be built upon; the tools and ingenuity that come with technology should not be forgotten. With the uncertainty of the future, phrases like “the new normal” and “back to reality” are being frequently tossed around – with this, I think it’s also important to consider the positive changes that can be made to what’s “normal” and “reality,” based off the experience of the last few months.

Link to Family Resource Site:

Link to School Resource Site:

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