Looking towards Bright Futures with Connections

Our recent turn to live online programming has opened us up to a host of new possibilities. When the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan asked us to run 4 virtual sessions for Connections, their community-building program for young adults with a range of differing abilities, we eagerly accepted!

Since March, the members had been meeting virtually to participate in activities such as yoga and art therapy, but the director of the program was especially interested in strengthening group bonds and stimulating meaningful community discussion. Together, we created a custom theater-based virtual program that would fulfill this vision: “Bright Futures.” In this program, participants would use improv and discussion to create their own news broadcast featuring topics on inclusion that were interesting and relevant to them. We were excited for the participants to have the opportunity to connect with each other virtually and have a fun, interactive way to discuss important issues.

Here’s a bit about the program we ran, the lessons we learned, and the insight we’ll take forward into future programs.

The Goal:

The goal of our time with Connections was to foster and strengthen the group’s interpersonal connections within the new virtual landscape. An important component of this was to encourage them to connect with one another in meaningful conversations about important topics, and to do so in a way that would be fun and engaging.

Our Process:

We joined the program for four sessions. Over the course of those sessions, we celebrated a different season’s worth of birthdays every week. Those being celebrated on that particular week got to be interviewed by the facilitators and/or choose their favorite high-focus game to play with a group.

The basic outline for each session:

  • We began with interactive games, with the goal of getting everyone relaxed and having fun.
  • To stimulate conversation, participants brought in news stories about topics that were meaningful to them. One participant wanted to discuss immigration, while others shared sports stories or personal updates. We discussed everything from the Black Lives Matter protests to the COVID-19 pandemic to the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Each participant presented their chosen new story stylistically for discussion.
  • The discussions were kept in a loose, open format so that everyone stayed relaxed and felt that they could contribute.
harry the puppet

One stylistic piece that added to both the fun and the meaningful conversation was the use of a puppet named Harry Furrowitz. Harry features heavily in many of our other programs, and this group absolutely loved him. They requested him frequently, and even went so far as to ask that he present a news story to the rest of the group!

The End Result:

The program culminated with the presentation of a finished recording of the news video that had been cut together from all the stories presented during the sessions by different members. Each participant was featured on the video in a speaking role.

To celebrate, everyone viewed the video together on the last day. Overall, the group was very pleased. They were proud to have created something so cool together with their fellow group members.

What We Learned:

Throughout the program, we found ourselves reflecting on what a special opportunity it is to be able to facilitate the formation of group bonds in a virtual format. When a group can unpack meaningful topics together in a supportive environment, it sends positive ripple effects throughout the community.

It was highly gratifying to work with this unique group full of amazing people who have historically been so culturally and programmatically underrepresented. It’s our hope that we’ll be able to have that unique opportunity again!