Hope to See You There: Can we overcome COVID-19 fears and rebuild community? 

A quick flip through the Motif Summer Guide pages will give you a full calendar for the next few months. However, the tumultuous past few years have given some individuals pause about partaking in community events. Even with daily entertainment throughout this beautiful state, it can be difficult to find the motivation to get ready and leave the house. 

Chris Donovan is an events organizer with a background in theater. He moved to PVD eight years ago, adopting it as his home and spending time giving back to the city that helped him thrive. The pandemic caused him to feel disengaged and disconnected from the community; This year, he went to coffee with his friend Ray Nuñez, CEO of digital marketing agency Nuñez, and the two discussed how they both felt disconnected from the world and that many others felt the same. They discussed ideas and came up with the concept: “Hope to See You There.”

“In my journey to re-establish my love for PVD,” Nuñez explained, “I connected with my good friend Chris Donovan to make sure I wasn’t the only one feeling lost. He empathized with me and we agreed that in order to regain that PVD magic, we had to dust off our milk crates and publicly evangelize the need for community building. We wanted to bring together those new PVD transplants, those long-timers who lost their pack and all those who long for connection.”

The goal of Hope to See You There is to give a sense of community to everybody and remind people that they still belong, even after a long absence. Donovan sees this initiative as an invitation for people to engage and feel comfortable with each other, meet someone new and explore the state.

“Rhode Island has a lot of great things, but it’s the people and the community that make this a special place to live,” Donovan says. “Everything we have wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have a community to support it and lift it up. Everybody that has been looking for community feels a stronger sense of investment and pride in Rhode Island and really makes it an even better place to live.”

Hope to See You There is a visible symbol that people can connect to quickly. Participants will be wearing a pin with the logo, which lets others know that they are safe people to start a conversation with. This initiative belongs to the community, and aims to give everyone a feeling of security and the motivation to leave the house and socialize with other community members.

“This felt like the perfect opportunity for me to roll up my sleeves and get involved,” said Julia Brough, a volunteer who hand illustrated the lettering. “I see myself as someone out in the community wearing the Hope To See You There pin, open to connecting with my fellow PVDers. Giving visibility to that line of communication could really be a huge influence on whether a transplant wants to stay here or possibly move elsewhere. This initiative bubbles those opportunities to the surface and I dig that.” 

Hope to See You There plans to be a decentralized way for all communities to get back together. They will rely on community leaders to become ambassadors and spread the message to their individual groups. 

“Our hope is to get enough of these people and have a ripple effect,” Donovan says. “It’s the best possible outcome of a pyramid scheme that we could expect.”

The reception has been positive, and the volunteer list has grown to a dozen. This grassroots effort relies on word of mouth from enthusiastic individuals who believe in this initiative. Nuñez and Donovan have obtained enough support to do the initial launch but are looking for more donations to keep Hope to See You There going.

“Sustainability will be a community response,” Donovan explains. “If people believe in this and want to keep it going, they will. If the community at large believes in this idea, it’s going to find a way. The transformation has already begun. It’s a matter of how big it can get.”

The official launch of Hope to See You There will take place June 5 at the Van Leesten Memorial Bridge (unofficially called Providence Pedestrian Bridge) in the Guild PVD Beer Garden. A team of volunteers will be spreading the word, discussing the initiative and doing personal invitations to people to get kits and a poster that explains the concept.

“We want this event to be an anchor point for people to show up, find out more about the purpose of Hope to See You There, and collect their kits to bring back and become ambassadors to their community,” Donovan says. “We hope people stay and connect with community members that believe in this mission and are doing this work. It’s an anchor point for the members of the community that are going to become ambassadors to come together and embrace the idea.”