Crucial Connectedness

This past year was wild. The un-expectancy of a worldwide quarantine along with all of the unfortunate circumstances and repercussions left us all affected and jaded in some way.

My concern is mostly for our kids and the mark that this shift left on them. Over the course of the year, I listened to our young folks tell stories of PE classes on Zoom with 171 kids in it, and was privy to parent’s important business calls while I taught their kids online. Not to mention the large number of children in our world that missed an entire year of school due to inadequate online resources. The crisis shift to primary online learning was less than desirable, although kids are now complaining about too much screen time and are restless to get outside and play in the sunshine, which is not an entirely bad thing.

My point is, none of this is normal, and in my opinion, it’s not healthy either. We are meant to be in relationship with one another, preferably in close proximity. While we are grateful for online platforms and the conveniences of it, it will never replace the connection we develop with in-person activities. Even the fact that “in-person” is now a common adjective for events and gatherings is weird.

Before the pandemic, our children were already in crisis, and we believe disconnection is at the heart of the dilemma – not only from others but also from themselves. With an increase in social media and virtual worlds, kids are growing further apart from real connection, causing an increase in loneliness, which then leads to a series of other significant problems.

Prior to 2020, 49.5% of kids were estimated to have a diagnosable mental illness (Merikangas, K., Hep, J., Burstein, M., Swanson, S.). In 2018 Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University stated that, “Loneliness has also skyrocketed among teens and young adults, despite their typically robust health and sizable peer groups.” (Psychology Today, March 7, 2018). Experts argue that social media is most to blame for this trend amongst teens, hindering their social development, and the pandemic only heightened these numbers and unfortunate results.

But there is hope! These reports also indicate that by providing a safe space without distraction, we allow youth to connect more effectively and give them necessary tools that will continue to benefit their future relationships. The work of nonprofits and team-building organizations is timelier now than ever before.

The pandemic also forced nonprofits to shift their thinking in supporting their causes, which in some ways led to significant growth, and in other ways created setbacks.  Despite the constraints of 2020, INK Theater continued to serve kids through creative online programming, and we are grateful that technology affords us these conveniences. We continued to support the development of empathy, problem-solving, and cooperation through creative storytelling and performance, as our primary focus is human and emotional development. We believe art coupled with collaborative effort is the context by which youth process more acutely in a safe space as they grow and develop. By creating original creative content, kids are given room to explore their own thoughts, emotions and unique abilities as they connect with one another.

As the world slowly opens back up, finding new and safe ways to connect is crucial. This is a time for healing, reflection, and rebuilding. As non-profit leaders, we must join forces and learn how to work together, more so now than ever.

We at INK believe there is extreme power when creatively building something together, which is why we are so excited to partner with Project Giving Kids! We love that at the core of PGK’s mission, their volunteer mentality fosters growth in social responsibility and empathy in young people. This particular focus of volunteering not only provides a sense of purpose, but also reduces stress levels and decreases the risk of depression. We are grateful for the platform that PGK provides, allowing literally anyone the opportunity to find a way to serve people, while also providing support for non-profits to expand their reach.

As we embark on our in-person summer camps this month, PGK is connecting us with volunteers ready to serve, as well as resources for the theater shows our kids are creating. Whether it’s painting a set, passing out programs or providing art supplies, PGK is helping us get the word out as we create new opportunities for connection. There is much work to be done, and we know that what we can do together is always more powerful than anything we could ever accomplish alone. We look forward to all we will build together!

– Rachel Kiser, INK Theater Founder and CEO