By Guy Djandji

Frank Scully had been a volunteer for several years before he gradually got involved in the Men’s Club. This group comprises about 15 to 20 men who met informally at the Wellness Center before the pandemic. The topic of their discussions varied but centered mostly on sharing information about their personal situations, discussing their concerns, fears and treatments. They also would touch upon lighter subjects such as cooking, gardening or creative writing. Frank became the de facto facilitator of the group, and, in consultation with staff supervisor Sandy Lipkus, he called meetings, encouraged attendance and followed up with participants if necessary.

When the pandemic hit, the Men’s Club had to re-examine its role and functioning. ZOOM, the favored tech video conference tool widely used by business and individuals around the globe, was adopted by the group. Now, ZOOM meetings are held every second week and approximately 8 men join in the conversation.

According to Frank, the new way of functioning, despite its advantages, also has major drawbacks. “You can see everybody on the screen, and people join in the conversation. It lacks the warmth of actual presence but we have to keep in mind that it’s better than no meeting at all.” The technology itself required some training at first to become acquainted with some of its functions. Meetings start with some delays until everyone is properly hooked into the network. Only then does the conversation start. Some of the more senior members do not have internet connection and usually Frank follows up with them with a phone call, to keep them in the loop.

“My role is to direct traffic. I don’t select the topic of the conversation; this is left to those who attend. The hot topics these days have been the pandemic and the isolation, obviously. Those who live alone are clearly the most affected.” Frank steers the conversation to what and how patients are living in the present moment. “The feeling is mixed presently, constantly switching from optimism to pessimism, understandably.”

Technology is ‘cold’ and cannot replace the warmth of face-to-face meetings. It creates new hurdles and challenges. “It’s the second-best thing,” Frank says. “In the past, meetings would end and break into smaller groups of two or three people who continued to talk about more personal matters, sharing their experiences. Quite often, that was the most productive part of the meeting. Now, with ZOOM, we don’t have that opportunity. When the video meeting is over, people simply leave.”

“What we miss most are the direct warmth of people present and the free bagel!” Franks adds with a laugh. Which proves that sometimes a bagel is more than a bagel: it acts as an icebreaker and a way to tease a friend over free food. After all, sharing food is the ultimate human bond among friends.