Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

The Online Life: Social distancing has created virtual communities, opportunities.

Social distancing. It is a term we have become all too familiar with. Stay six feet apart, wash your hands, wear a mask if you go out, but don’t go out unless necessary.

While we are physically more isolated now than any of us probably have been before, what I’ve found is that we are hardly socially distant. Being told to stay away from people has made us crave human interaction so much more, and, the fact is, we need it. We can stay physically distant, but not socially.

As our virtual world swells during this crisis, growing to accommodate our communication needs, local organizations are figuring out how they fit.

Businesses are taking services like yoga and exercise classes online, and schools and churches are teaching through a screen. This is how some local organizations are doing it.



Downward-facing dog. Warrior II. Tree pose.

A Zoom screen full of about 20 people shift and move with each instruction. They aren’t physically together, but they are in sync—at least until the occasional dog or toddler photo-bombs in the background.

“It’s a sense of community,” said Brittany Holtz, owner of Studio B Power Yoga. “You can see everyone. It’s all the people you would see if you were coming into the studio. That’s been the bright light in all of this.”

All three of the studio’s locations—Hershey, Lebanon and Mechanicsburg—have merged into one online program in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Seven days a week, Studio B offers classes such as “Vinyasa Flow” and “Mindful Flow,” taught by a range of instructors.

Holtz explained the importance of yoga, especially in a time like this when stress and anxiety can be crippling. Through this experience, she said that she sees the studio continuing to offer online classes even when the crisis is over.

“Yoga teaches us to be in each moment as it comes,” she said. “That is such a tough lesson right now, but it has really helped strengthen that lesson.”


Hope, Community

 “The church is not a building; it’s people,” said Executive Pastor Scott Ball of Christian Life Assembly. “Just because we can’t meet doesn’t mean we stop being the church.”

With around 2,500 people attending the Camp Hill campus each Sunday and about double as many calling CLA their home church, the leadership team needed to find creative ways to stay connected.

Despite not being able to meet physically, CLA has continued many of its regular services and programs. Sunday services are live-streamed, daily devotionals are posted, and Zoom has become a meeting place for Bible study groups.

“There is nothing that beats being face-to-face with people, but I feel like we are doing the next best thing,” Ball said.

In addition to resources for the congregation, CLA has volunteers distributing food to people in need in the community through a partnership with Cumberland County Food Bank.

“People need hope, people need community,” Ball said. “We have the greatest opportunity to share that.”


 Outdoors Indoors

As a science- and technology-based school, Harrisburg University may have had a leg up when moving learning online. But for programs that require a lot of hands-on work, faculty members needed to find creative ways to adapt classroom material.

How do you hold a field trip when you can’t leave home? Professors in the environmental science and geospatial technology programs have found a way.

“The students don’t have to completely give up the experience of going out,” said Christine Proctor, assistant professor of biology and ecology.

Proctor’s “Ecosystem Restoration” class usually spends half of the semester conducting fieldwork, observing and exploring nature. When the university switched to all online courses, she decided not to cancel the fieldwork, but offer it virtually.

Michael Meyer, assistant professor of earth systems science, and Albert Sarvis, director of HU’s Geospatial Technology Center, had been working to find a way to use a 360-degree camera and an online virtual reality tool to bring outdoor scenes indoors to students. Now was the perfect time to test it out on a class.

The three professors travelled to Michaux State Forest to capture video and still images of a restored stream. Students now can view the content and get a glimpse of what the area looks like.

“Instead of me just describing it, they can be looking at it,” Proctor said. “It allows us to recreate the field trip.”


Safe Spaces

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it wasn’t a matter of if the YMCA would help, it was how.

The Harrisburg Area YMCA was used to serving community members in need, but, with the crisis hitting, they became among the most vulnerable. The Y needed to continue its programming, now more than ever.

“Our focus has been—how do we treat our employees fairly and ensure our members are treated fairly, as well,” said Rosie Turner, director of marketing and communications.

Many of the Y’s classes moved online, including the “Livestrong” class for cancer survivors, “Healthy Weight and Your Child,” and tobacco cessation and diabetes prevention programs. Turner explained how important this was to reduce feelings of isolation and continue promoting healthy lifestyles.

To make sure youth in the community stay connected, they moved their Camp Curtin mentoring programs online.

“A lot of kids would come every day, and it’s their safe space,” Turner said. “We are trying to bring that safe space to their home.”

Knowing that, for many, the Y is their community gym, they also started offering workout tutorial videos online for people of all ages.

“Letting people know we are here and we are thinking of them is important to us,” Turner said.

For more information on the organizations mentioned in this story, visit,,, and

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