Building Community During COVID19

My move to Update NY has been a tough one for a variety of reasons, one of them being, it’s been challenging to build community and make friends. Something I’ve prided myself on finally learning how to do when moving someplace new.

I intentionally moved into a townhouse community over an apartment because I hoped that because we would all be living side by side with mini-yards and driveways, it would be easier to form connections than in an apartment building. Turns out I was wrong.

December was not the optimal month to move to one of the snowiest cities in the U.S. and expect to make friends. My new job and moving in kept me more than busy during the first several months after arriving here. Finally, summer came, and the pool opened. I thought, here is my chance to meet some people to invite for brunch.

Wow, what a rude awakening I experienced.

After several conversations with a couple (in my age range), I said to the wife, “I really like to build community when I move somewhere new, and brunch is always a fun meal to share. Would you and your husband like to join me some Sunday?”

She looked me straight in the eye and responded, “No, we have enough friends.”

End of conversation.

It’s a good thing I’m persistent because I’ve met some wonderful friends as an extension of meeting a gal while volunteering at a local state park. The friendship has grown, and I’m now part of a group that I refer to as the “Bunco girls.” We meet once a month and play bunco, which is a perfect game for me. The rules are easy to understand, and it’s mostly about catching up with each other, laughter, wine and snacks.

My network has continued to slowly expand within the city, but I still had not managed to make any connections where I live. I was on the verge of hosting brunch for my new next-door neighbors, and then COVID hit, needless to say, they haven’t been over for brunch.

Finally, the sun came out, the skies turned from grey to blue, and the temperatures invited people to spend time outside. A welcome change that also led to an unexpected event.

Saturday, I had the first neighborhood/community experience that I’ve had since moving to Syracuse.

I spotted a little turtle crawling out of the natural grass in the middle of the common area behind my townhouse.

Naturally, I quickly pulled out my phone to try and capture the moment.

Lazurus the turtle

Before I knew it, Gavin (10) and Kenna (5) were beside me watching the little guy’s movements.

They live two doors down from me.

I didn’t know for sure if the turtle was a male, so I asked Gavin how we could figure that out. He said, “Well, we’d have to pick it up and look underneath. But I’m pretty sure it’s a boy.” I nearly fell over laughing.

After we watched the little turtle crawl back into the grassy space that he emerged from, we went and shared the experience with their mom. We all agreed that the turtle needs a name.

I told them about the turtle that hangs out on my mom’s patio – he always looks like he is about dead, disappears, and then he comes back. She’s named him Lazarus, which is very fitting. They all got a kick out of it.

The kids are going to come up with a name for the turtle and let me know what it is. We will have some fun watching it throughout the summer.

Sunday was even more special.

It got off to a bit of a rough start, but in the end, it was a beautiful day. Not only was the weather picture-perfect, but we also had a fun family zoom call, and I finally had the opportunity to visit with my next-door neighbors – Ben and Jen.

The best part of the day, though, was creating some artwork on my driveway with sidewalk chalk.

After drawing in a few leaves, I realized that I had drawn an enormous tree and was starting to wonder how in the world I would ever finish it. Just then, my neighbor’s wife came out – followed by her youngest daughter.

We chatted a bit, and I asked Amira if she wanted to help me finish the tree. She shyly nodded yes, and then skipped over to my driveway.

I picked out three colors of green chalk and handed them to her, showed her how to draw a leaf, and then we went to work in companionable silence.

Tree Driveway Art Close Up

I was explaining the need to create some grass at the bottom of the tree to anchor the tree. I said, “We can’t leave the roots hanging out all alone, they need someplace to live.”

She nodded with understanding.

We finished the grass and were just getting ready to start the wildflowers when her older sister joined us. I said, “Pick out colors that you want to use for flowers, and I’ll show you how we’ll make them.”

They both listened intently as I demonstrated my technique. The three of us did a fantastic job.

Tree Driveway Art Flowers.2

Afterward, we stood back and admired our beautiful work of art.

Tree_Driveway Art

A bit later, as I was finishing my domestic chores, the doorbell rang, and on my step stood four neighborhood kids, including the two sisters from next door.

With sweet politeness, they asked, “We were wondering if we could use your sidewalk chalk to draw.”

I responded, “Of course you can, thank you so much for asking so nicely.”

The older sister, with some hesitation, asked, “How much may we use?”

I said, “You may use all three boxes. All I ask is that you put the chalk back in the boxes and back in front of my door. Have fun and create beautiful art!”

The boxes of chalk were indeed returned to my front door, and the neighborhood is blessed with new sidewalk chalk art.

Sidewalk Chalk Art.kids

It turns out it’s possible to connect with neighbors, even during a pandemic. It just takes patience, and in some cases, a bit of sidewalk chalk.