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'Valo Maine' guides teens in disconnecting from technology, connecting with each other during coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic

Non-profit 'Valo Maine' guides teens as they create real connections in our increasingly digital world, a mission that's more important than ever during pandemic.

MAINE, USA — With teens social distancing away from friends, school years cut short, and graduations postponed, many youths are facing loneliness, anxiety, depression, and screen fatigue.

Valo, a Maine-based program, has been sharing actionable ways for parents and community members to connect with and support the teens in their lives in this time of COVID-19, and beyond. 

Valo Executive Director Dana Anderson says it's about creating opportunities for teens to escape their screens and engage in the real world, "It's going on a walk every day and asking your teen if they want to join you. If they do, that's great! If they don't and you're just modeling for them, that's terrific as well." 

Anderson also encourages parents to engage in deep conversations with their kids. 

"We grow up with these people, but sometimes we don't ask them the questions we may ask our friends or other people we don't know very well," says Anderson. 

Valo Maine is a free program for teens of all backgrounds. Once a month, four groups of around ten teens meet for weekend overnight retreats. The retreats guide teens as they create genuine human connections in an increasingly digital world. 

The Valo Maine website says, "Once these youth experience the power of human relationships, and their vast capacity for love, we challenge them to go out and make the world a better place."

"We take teens from all walks of life on retreats. In this space, they are eager to open up and uncover what matters most. For them, it’s pretty simple—sustained, unplugged, face-to-face connection. A sense of belonging." 

"We do silk-screening, leather making, and sushi cooking and writing projects," Anderson names as a few of the technology-free activities the teens do at the retreats. 

Anderson says it has been a challenge to adapt a program-- based on creating deep personal connections--in a time when we can't meet face-to-face. 

"Our axis was kind of turned on its side when all we talk about are in-person connections," says Anderson, describing her reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary social distancing measures. 

In this time, Valo has broken its technology-free rule, utilizing Zoom to foster connection while the teens can't be together in person. 

"It's better to have some connections virtually than none at all," says Anderson.

However, Valo has also been using an "old school" way of communicating: writing letters. 

"The [program] guides are writing letters to the teens, and the teens in many cases are writing back. We do letter writing on retreats and I think most people would agree there's nothing quite like getting that surprise letter in the mail," says Anderson. 

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