Imagine an outdoor summer carnival – yes, in the age of COVID-19 – where children awakening from quarantines engage in creative play and colorful activities while those watching from home via Zoom even get to take part in a coin toss.
That’s part of what’s on the agenda for The Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh, which last week transitioned from its spring to summer programming schedule. The Squirrel Hill-based nonprofit will mix daily virtual programming with in-person events – respecting social distancing, of course – throughout this summer.
The Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh was launched in 2006 to create a more inclusive community by engaging youth and adults with diverse abilities in a full range of social activities, thereby creating opportunities to form lasting friendships.
This summer, Friendship Circle’s activities will include its Coffee with Friends on Fridays and a Teen Scene discussion titled “Fear of Zooming Out,” according to Friendship Circle’s program director, Adina Waren.
“We’re recognizing such a need for connection,” Waren said.
In addition to those programs, Friendship Circle will offer Unwind with FC Moms, a parent group, on alternating Thursday evenings and its Friends on the Town virtual meet-ups.
Then, there’s that carnival. Friendship Circle is working out the logistics to host “safe social distance” in-person programs such as the carnival or drive-in movies. One possible location for the film screenings could be the parking lot behind its facility on Murray Avenue, though permits and details are still being developed, Waren said.
During the events, members who attend would remain in their own cars and, if staff members handed out activity kits or snacks, they would wear masks and gloves, Waren said. All materials would be individually packaged.
The group has put a lot of attention to detail, knowing it’s tough for everyone in different ways to bounce back from COVID-19’s lockdowns, as well as social situations that, it’s safe to say, are pretty unprecedented, said Rivkee Rudolph, director of Friendship Circle.
“The transition back to just being around people, for everyone, is going to be challenging,” Rudolph said. “But we’re going to be extra intentional in how we bring people back together and serve the community.
“Any activity we plan, we plan to accommodate every member of our community,” she added.
For example, Rudolph pointed to the masks Friendship Circle will distribute for programming use. The cloth masks have see-through plastic mouthpieces so people who read lips to communicate can take part in activities and feel comfortable.”
“Everyone is welcome and everyone is accommodated,” Rudolph stressed.
While staff seems excited to initiate some in-person work – the group’s office also recently re-opened – they say there is a benefit in virtual programming. For one child who uses a wheelchair and a speech-communication device, it was a window into easier and more fluid socialization with their peers, Rudolph said. For others, it strengthened regional bonds and ties between common interests; some, for example, say they want to continue reunions of certain online groups.
“Online, we’ve made all these new friends,” Waren said. “This is an awesome platform,” providing “a very interesting perspective” and generating good feedback.
Importantly, the events and programming will be free to those taking part, thanks to grants, private donations and community support, according to Rabbi Mordy Rudolph, executive director of Friendship Circle.
“It has been a challenging time but we’ve been fortunate,” he said. “We’ve grown as we have … because the community believes in us. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.