Creating Community During a Pandemic

A 2020 Program Update from the Executive Director

You do not need me to tell you that this year turned out to be unique at best. Like the majority of the world, COVID-19’s reach impacted Kismet. For the very first time in our history, we did not have a summer program filled with rock climbing, family dinners or warm evenings swimming in the Saco. Instead, with student, staff, and community safety at the forefront of our minds, we decided to explore the mysterious space of the virtual world.

At this moment, you are most likely scratching your head in confusion, thinking, “how do you possibly make a rock climbing school into a virtual reality?” To answer this question best, let me describe to you the three pillars that are fundamental to the success of this organization. Pillar one: The children we serve, Pillar two: An education in technical rock climbing, and Pillar three: A family-like atmosphere. This year we focused primarily on the first and third pillar while weaving introductory rock climbing lessons into the range of virtual activities. Earlier in the year, we accepted 24 new students into the program. Despite the changes brought upon us, it was our goal to cultivate new Kismet communities, while providing our existing Kismet communities opportunities to re-connect.

We had a great crew of creative staff to engage, motivate and encourage the mission of Kismet while facing the bizarre challenges that the virtual world brings. Each of our staff members shared their humor, patience, and passion for Kismet at every virtual gathering. Together we faced the expected challenges of weak internet connections and inaudible computer microphones, along with the not so expected challenges such as: encouraging a student to sing to the group, easing the tensions of frustration while learning a double fisherman’s knot, and putting together a virtual pizza party. I want to give a big shout out to the Kismet team, who made this leap of faith a success!

Overall, the goal of our program was to build group connections and foster an enthusiasm for rock climbing. We accomplished this by meeting with four individual groups once a week for two hours each throughout the month of July. We also met virtually with our three graduating groups in August, which gave us an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments and reassure them that we will bring them back for a final Kismet experience in 2021. Each student was sent a “Kismet Care Package” that included all the materials to
participate in activities hosted throughout the summer.

The best way to measure the success of this new virtual program is by the responses of students and parents when asked if they plan on returning to Kismet next year. While the great majority of participants said yes, some noteworthy answers were as follows:

“My daughter is excited for next year, absolutely!”

“I would love to return for the 2021 season and maybe this year get some rock climbing in.”

“Yes of course!”

“Thank you for accepting my son into Kismet. He is really excited for next year, we are just so happy he participated, he is usually very shy and anxious. Thank you again.”

At a time where it is important to celebrate the small victories in life, I personally am celebrating the success of our virtual program. I know we were able to maintain existing relationships, as well as create three new Kismet family groups. Three groups that would have been lost to Kismet if we did not do it.

All my best,
Alyssa Riley
Executive Director