Sometimes things do not unfold as planned. They turn out better, unintentionally! I had no idea that my disappointment was an unexpected gift.

I was delighted last November when I was offered an opportunity to be the logistics coordinator for the new #TPFStudyAway program. This program was an opportunity for The Patterson Foundation (TPF) to collaborate with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to develop "The Future of the Philanthropic Sector – Experiential Learning with The Patterson Foundation" in Sarasota, FL. Students from the Lilly School of Philanthropy would be interviewed and hand-picked to be a part of this inaugural class, and they would have the opportunity to visit TPF to work with three of our initiatives. One of my responsibilities was to coordinate their one week visit in March.

After four months of planning and only four days before the students were scheduled to visit, Indiana University (IU) canceled all student trips due to COVID-19. Now I had to figure out how to change their learning experience into a virtual one while making it rich, meaningful, and educational without the personal contact that was supposed to happen.

All TPF'ers, IU students and staff were up to the challenge, bound and determined to make it work. Personal meetings were switched to virtual meetings, site visits were turned into virtual site visits, and group conversations took place via Zoom. I expected everyone to make the best out of a disappointing situation. I didn't expect the connections and genuine relationships that developed.

Our Zoom calls looked like the Brady Bunch. Each day we connected with the "question of the day." Over the week, strangers turned into new-found friends and colleagues. We laughed, learned, collaborated, presented, evolved, and connected through conversation. I reflected on the unexpected gift we all witnessed: the importance of dialogue. In a world that gives you 280 characters to express your thought or opinion and 15 seconds to share a video, I am rediscovering the value of conversation: real conversation without limitations.

Today is very different than several weeks ago because of social distancing. There is also a familiar word called reconnecting. As we work and study remotely, we should concentrate on social closeness, mutual support, and building a sense of strength in togetherness. We are not amidst lost opportunities but rather new possibilities.

I challenge you to pick up that phone, set up a Zoom call or Facetime, have a conversation with someone, hear their voice, and genuinely connect with them without an agenda or time restriction. Pause and listen to one another and feel the power.

Got to go, my phone is ringing!


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