Alone together

From faith groups to fitness classes, take it online during COVID-19

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published March 23, 2020

Every night at 7 p.m., young kiddos in the Birmingham-Bloomfield area snuggle in with their favorite grownups and log in to a virtual meeting room. The families take turns reading their favorite bedtime story to the other kids in the video chat, and before shutting off their computers, they share a nightly prayer.

“All the kids can see each other, see the pastor, and it’s a way for them to connect to each other and see that they’re not going through this alone,” said Kecelyn Santiago, a youth minister at Kirk in the Hills church in Bloomfield Hills, which hosts the nightly bedtime stories.

Following the direction of legislators and medical experts, families are hunkering down at home waiting for the COVID-19 virus to loosen its grip on the nation. Terms like “social distancing” and “self isolating” are being popularized to encourage people to stay away from others, lest they further spread the illness. But after a few days, quarantine can begin to feel like solitary confinement.

In these times, technology-savvy folks are using their powers for good, finding ways to keep communities connected during the crisis. Church congregations, support groups, and even some fitness and yoga classes are taking their regular programming online.

Kirk in the Hills has put a number of its regular events online, like weekly mass and daily Lenten prayers. They’ve gone a step further and created some new virtual meetings to help families out during this time of isolation.

“At 10 a.m. every day we’re streaming a Move and Learn session, and we invite families to start their morning with us and we’ll do some kind of activity that’s going to get us moving and is going to be interactive, Santiago said. 

For instance, during the video chat, kids were challenged to go on a mini scavenger hunt in their home, guided by the alphabet.

“It was so cute seeing them all run around their house. One brought back an apple for the letter A, and so on. It’s an amazing way to get them to move and learn, and each day is something different. We’re doing a music class tomorrow, and we’ll have an artist doing a doodle class,” Santiago explained. “I never thought I would be doing ministry this way, but this is our new normal.”

Ivy Mitchell is a Zumba instructor and the founder of Zoe Fitness, which offers classes at community centers around metro Detroit, including in Eastpointe, Southfield and Clawson. With all of those centers shut down by order of the governor, Mitchell decided that she would live stream classes for her regulars, instead of vegging out in sweatpants for the next few weeks.

“My reason is twofold: to continue to generate income to provide for myself, and to continue to give my students the physical, mental aid and support that they need,” Mitchell explained. “I know when people are depressed, discouraged, are facing any trials in life, when they walk through the doors of my class for that hour, their problems melt away and they focus on dancing, sweating, laughing and being the best version of themselves. I want them to still be able to feel that experience at home.”

Not only can those social connections boost moods, they can stave off the more negative emotions life naturally brings along from time to time. 

Support and community are especially integral to those in recovery from substance abuse or other harmful addictions, according to David Clayton, the regional director and outreach coordinator for Hope Not Handcuffs and Families Against Narcotics, based in Macomb County.

“There’s been a big shift. We’re just kind of seeing churches closing and (recovery support) meetings usually held in those churches. Some are staying open just for meetings, but if not, what do we do?” asked Clayton, recovering from addiction himself. 

While every support community could handle the predicament in different ways, Clayton said some find help with virtual meetings on websites like Some have reached out for help in smaller online chats with members of their existing group, or conversations with recovery-centered social media groups. 

What those methods of connection have in common, however, is the extra step people can take to reach out for help when they need it, or reach out to others when they know times are tough. Those who aren’t already in a group can contact Families Against Narcotics or other support organizations for resources to get started.

“What it comes down to is whatever recovery community you’re involved in, it is a community. Check up on those people, volunteer to host meetings at your home,” he said. “We need to bind together to make a difference, especially in recovery, and with what we’re currently facing, it’s a community working together that will get us through it.”

Call Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at (586) 498-1095.