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Inspiration Is All Around Us

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lori L. Hardesty
September 24

There is so much heaviness these days navigating the pandemic and engaging in the national reckoning on race, punctuated by the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Anxiety and sadness loom like a thunderstorm that just won’t pass, while parts of this country are experiencing major disasters like wildfires and hurricanes. Each day can feel hard to manage.

Recently, when eyeballing emails, my attention was captured by an email subject line, “If the pandemic ended tomorrow…” I could not resist—I needed to see more. It was from StoryCorps, a non-profit whose mission is to, “Preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

The full question read, “If the COVID-19 pandemic ended tomorrow, what’s the first thing you’d do?” Let’s frolic in that thought playground for a moment.

Visit family, hug them with a confidence of safety, enter into their homes and—gasp—stay overnight! Gather for a meal with friends inside a restaurant. And a massage is extremely high on my list.

At work, I deeply miss face-to-face interactions; informal conversations with colleagues in the hallway, popping into someone’s office to ask a quick question. Students visiting to update you on their day. Beyond the office, the hallway extends to the route I might take across campus for a meeting. Spontaneous and unscripted, a quick catch up with familiar faces (students, staff, faculty, administrators) about their family, classes, completing that big exam, etc. Meeting someone for a cup of coffee at off-campus OCA Mocha in downtown Arbutus.

Connection. Simple, in-person connection. It is not healthy to constantly dwell in the negative, wallowing in the stress about what we are missing.

Here’s another question—in the absence of in-person, how do we fill these voids?

Where there is a will, there is a way. In times of challenge, we will use creativity to connect to others, to remember our purpose and mission and to do it together. Some days are easier than others; tough days can be really tough, especially when juggling responsibilities as a caregiver. My colleagues are amazingly patient. We practice the idea of giving ourselves and each other grace because this is not normal.

As a new Senator with UMBC’s Professional Staff Senate (PSS), I learned that our monthly video meetings are the largest they have been prior to the pandemic. There is a deep sense of urgency within PSS to ensure staff across campus feel supported.

For the first time, my team Eloise, Emily, Kasey and I created our own, individual introduction videos to demonstrate a shared humanity with students. My 11-year-old was my executive producer. The majority of students are remotely learning. With a sense of belonging, we want students to feel they are a part of our UMBC community. We also developed and narrated new orientation videos to demonstrate care and compassion as they understand community engagement in these virtual times.

Throughout this pandemic, The Shriver Center continues monthly Breakfast Briefings the first Monday of the month. Other Monday mornings, our Office Supervisor hosts a weekly Monday Brunch meeting for those who join to say “hello” and check in.

To bookend the week, colleagues from another Shriver Center program, The Choice Program, share their, “Feel Good Friday,” email to celebrate successes and accomplishments throughout the week. The Choice Program is a community-based program that empowers youth and families. This last week was apparently a Photo Edition. On this particular Friday, this deeply resonated with me.

  • Jarrett donated a guitar to a youth and rescued a kitten.
  • Beccah celebrated her son moving to a “big boy” car seat.
  • Former Choice youth Charles, “Started with the Four Seasons last year and has been promoted. He will be traveling to Wyoming for a month on a special task team this Saturday!!!! Since being at The Four Seasons, the management team has had nothing but rave reviews about his progress.”
  • Z conducted training for the Four Seasons Hotel, focusing on anti-racism and the hospitality industry.

Colleague Shelly inspired me with pictures of her new car, Mabel, that her husband surprised her with for her landmark birthday. I shared the socially distanced selfie of me and Shelly when we quickly intersected at work earlier that week. I also included a graduation picture of UMBC alumna Breana, who was welcomed in her new start in a leadership role with The Choice Program after completing her time in the Peace Corps (Morocco). In a familiar competitive challenge, colleague Eric challenged Eloise to find the underlying connection within this email chain to Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation and monarch butterflies to which Eloise countered with depth and delivery. Kasey shared pictures of butterflies she has been raising since the pandemic (featured as my picture).

Mission accomplished! After a full week, we all felt good on this Friday afternoon. You never know what you can do or who you can inspire until you are tested, a metamorphosis in a time of challenge. Inspiration is truly all around us.


Author: Lori L. Hardesty, MPA, is the Associate Director of Applied Learning & Community Engagement at The Shriver Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). She teaches a Community Service & Learning Practicum, directs the Shriver Living Learning Community, and France-Merrick Scholarship Program. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from The Johns Hopkins University and MPA from the University of Baltimore. Email [email protected].

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