A CALL TO THE COMMUNITY: Getting Through This Winter Together


We are New Englanders and we know how to get through the winter.  We have learned from past experience to prepare ourselves for getting through the dark months. 

But this year is different.  We don’t quite know how to prepare for a combination of weather and COVID-19, and we cannot draw on previous experience.  Everything is new. 

I have spent the last four decades traveling across the world to help health professional develop the awareness and skills to be good stewards of the health services entrusted to them.  Now, with COVID-19, I am grounded. I have never been at home in Manchester for this long.  

Because I am no longer traveling, but still have much energy in me to make the world a better place, I have turned my focus to our own community and on this one question: How can we, together, get through this coming winter, recognizing and honoring needs and drawing on all the talents, goodwill and resources we have in this town? 

I know there are already many initiatives that have helped people through our difficult times and continue to do so.  But most of those are serving a particular demographic. 

Currently, I am participating in a seven-month creative gathering of people from the Americas, Europe and the Far East/Down Under who are all taking a stand to make life better for others, whether on a grand scale (climate change), national scale (health, education, justice reform) or local (resilient communities).  We use two technology platforms (Miro.com and Wonder.me, formerly Yotribe.com) that were entirely new to me back in July.  But after a short but steep learning curve, I have mastered the basics of these platforms that now allow me to get in touch with and learn from people who live far away from me and who I might otherwise never have met.  For instance, I am learning from a woman in Wellington New Zeeland about her leadership development programs for public health officials.  I am convinced that, having these leaders be more self-aware and more conscientious about their leadership role in New Zeeland’s response to COVID-19 must have contributed, in whatever small ways, to New Zeeland’s success in containing the virus. 

I am also learning from a cartoonist in Baton Rouge how to create resource-rich environments in his local community, that has been hit by one natural disaster after another over the last few years.  I am learning from a lawyer in Sydney that indigenous communities racked by crime can overcome the consequences of being marginalized for so long.  

Now, I have now taken my own stand.  And it is very local: How to get through the winter together in Manchester-by-the-Sea. 

My vision is to have a platform, or a series of platforms (most likely all digital) that can bring us together as a community to keep COVID-19 at bay.  The countless different activities that we would do on or with those platforms (I have some in mind) is what I would like to design with those of my fellow residents who find some resonance with my stand.  Inspired by my “teachers” in Baton Rouge, Sidney and Wellington, here are some outcomes I believe we can create: By the end of the winter, we will have created: 

  • Opportunities to exert leadership or practice leadership (anyone, of any age) in keeping our community safe, and, ideally, thriving  

  • A resource-rich environment for the benefit of anyone in need in Manchester (without having to call on support from outside our community or formal revenue generating modalities)  

  • Awareness of and attention to those in Manchester who feel marginalized or are desperately in need of help and support so that they can find hope and see possibilities and opportunities that seemed out of sight when we went into the winter. 

What I hope the platform(s) that we would select can do is essentially connecting parts of Manchester that are not connected now, with each other – a kind of town yoga: stretching a bit here, relaxing there, breathing into a tight spot, and at the end, feeling more supple, more whole and more connected to face the challenges of the day. 

What would these connections look like?  We could connect needs and available resources (such as time, interest and energy, special expertise, compassion and care, money and anything else I haven’t thought of).  We could connect lonely people with willing listeners.  We could connect elders and youngsters (to shop, read aloud, tell stories). 

I am not talking about creating yet a new website but rather about facilitating connections between what already exists and creating new connections that may hold as of yet unimaginable solutions to the challenges this winter may bring us. 

How to realize this vision is still sketchy and needs much thinking and refinement.  The vision itself is not fixed, and can incorporate elements I had not thought about. 

I am calling on a few of my fellow Manchester residents to join me in this endeavor and take a first step to share (and possibly refine) this vision.  Once we have a few people on board we can start sketching how we can bring this vision to life.  

If any or all of this resonates with you, please contact me.  Once we have a few people we can either meet in a (distanced) conversation at my house or via Zoom.   

Those interested, please write Sylvia at svriesendorp@gmail.com or call/text her at 978 -522-0747. 

health services, technology platforms, manchester, covid, coping, winter, mental health, community