Saturday, January 31, 2015

Finding Help in Second Life

 You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.

John Bunyan


          Helping others in Second Life (SL) is an old tradition inworld.

          The first help was probably was avatar helping some noob who had his pants on his head or something. 

          But, things quickly moved past that to help with causes in Real Life (RL).

          Relay for Life (RFL) is a major event inworld which raises money for cancer studies. 

          Earlier, I blogged about First UCC’s Real Reach program under the auspices of Children International which raises funds to support children in RL. 

          Another example is Perryn Peterson who has raised funds for RL people with very real medical bills.

          For all those nay sayers out there who dismiss SL as a bunch of perverts with too much time on their hands, I believe these examples are a very good response.

          But, what about all the others who need help and come into SL?

          Many not even aware that may be able to receive help there.

          Recently, I met a good friend of mine in SL, Becca (“Bec”) Kellstrom, a RL UCC
minister and a board member of First UCC to discuss this topic.  (Significant Other is convinced Bec views me as part of her role to look after everyone and anyone including the likes of me.  SO believes this demonstrates Bec’s commitment to selflessness and never questioning whatever is sent her way.  Me?  I always thought Bec just appreciated answers to her questions about Twitter.)

          In her ministry inworld, Bec fills many roles.

          She counsels those in need, preaches on occasion, plants in the garden, and helps with the administration of First UCC.  (Bec also has a more than full life in RL and I’m sure how she does it all.  I do know that she appreciated my recent story on maintaining balance in SL!)

          While visiting First UCC for several stories, I had spoken with Bec about those who come inworld either escaping from some RL issue or looking for something or someone in SL.  Some come looking for help, others are unaware that they may be able to find it inworld.

          This story relates the latest conversation between us.  Bec shares her experiences and her thoughts about how people find help inworld.  Throughout this discussion, privacy of all was protected.  I neither asked for personal information nor did Bec offer to supply any.  We spoke in generalities but I think you’ll understand what we talked about.

          In her experience, Bec finds that those who need help inworld are either arriving with issues and not knowing they can be helped, are homebound or isolated geographically, or in need of a text based messaging system with language translation capability in order to communicate with others because they are hearing impaired or don’t speak English. 

          Bec believes that some people are aware of what SL can offer because they have RL friends who direct them here. Many more come inworld thinking this is just a game, and then discover how much their real feelings play into the relationships they develop.  Largely, however, she thinks most discover help by accident.

When asked if organizations like First UCC have an outreach program to bring people needing help in or is it more just waiting for them to show up, Bec replies that as a church, and a progressive one on social justice issues, they're always trying to figure out how to reach people. Many do just show up, yet the longer they're around and the more groups they become involved with, the more people seek them out on purpose.  She cites as an example, their small presence in Pride Week, which they hope to make more of next time.

Bec continues by explaining that when people discover that First UCC is a good fit in their faith journey, they bring friends, so just like a congregation in RL, they grow by word of mouth.

I ask whether the LGBT a major part of the communities First UCC serves inworld.  Bec states that this church in SL began to serve the people in the gender diverse and sexual orientation communities, yet has grown to serve a wide variety of people.

When we begin to talk about individual examples of people seeking help and receiving it, Bec explains how this may happen.  She says that so many of their regular members are people who grew up in strict religious households, and so simply lived the lives they thought they were supposed to live: work, marriage, and children.  Arriving inworld, they can speak with Bec and other members of the First UCC staff and can be helped through their personal journeys of self-discovery.  For many of these people, this is something that they can’t do in RL. 

Bec also mentions meeting several people who haven't had opportunity to marry in RL, or to have children, but have a strong desire to do both. Folks fall in love in SL and host elaborate weddings she says. They experience virtual adoption of other people's avatars
(whether as children or adults), and even virtual pregnancy and child birth.  On social media, these families post whole albums of daily life as time goes by and children grow.  She’s seen many SL profiles listing aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, siblings, etc.  Bec concludes by saying but for those who can't relocate, who can't meet in RL, they do live the whole virtual lives of their dreams.

          I would say this definitely is an example of people finding the help and support that they can’t find in RL. 

          I ask about the types of care provided.

          Bec replies that the staff listen and offer what guidance they can from a faith perspective. Then they encourage people get seek RL help whenever possible, whether that be a church, therapy, or groups.  She continues saying that SL changes the pastoral care. In RL, people can call her, or e-mail, or stop in the office. In SL, she leaves IM's or NC's. Some contact her via social media, or her SL e-mail, but largely, they wait until she’s on-line.

           I ask about those who First UCC encounters and who either couldn't be helped or had to be banned?

Bec states that this is difficult, because so many people living with untreated, or under-treated, mental health issues, or substance abuse issues, can be a handful. And we're clergy, not trained as professional therapists.  They put first the safety and well being of the congregation, and don't allow others to be verbally abusive or make the visitors and members feel uncomfortable.  There have been incidents but as Bec explains they don't ban right away, unless it is terrible. They try to talk to people, to give them a chance to reform their behavior, to seek help, and to help them realize how their rude or crude actions are affecting others.

I ask Bec about the challenges of trying to help others inworld.

Bec says mostly not being a physically present support in daily life, which so many people need, which is why they encourage connecting with a RL congregation and others as much as possible.

As for the future of helping others inworld Bec thinks this congregation will continue to enrich the experience for people living their whole lives in SL. For people who are waiting to make a change or live authentically in their RL, they'll continue to affirm them as God's beloved children and hopefully find wholeness.

My interview drew to a close and I thanked Bec and left.  (Significant Other feels knowing when I’m about to wear out my welcome is one of my better points!)

          I come away with a better understanding of how people can find help and how it’s provided. 

          This interview with Bec and my previous interactions with First UCC have reinforced for me how virtual worlds like SL can be more than a simple game or a chat tool.  SL can make a positive difference in people’s lives!

While we talked, I’d asked Bec about the toll, emotionally, physically, and stresswise, of giving care in a virtual environment on the caregivers.  She shared her personal story with me. 

Bec explains that she can only answer for herself, since all of their staff spend
different amounts of time in-world.

Initially, Bec tried to spend as much time in SL as possible, to meet people, be present as a pastor, listen and learn everyone’s stories.  After months of late nights, which is when most people are inworld, the lack of sleep took a toll on her physical health.  Now she’s present during the day in her time zone, and only makes occasional evening visits.

Bec adds, “Your blog about balance was right on! I needed to put my RL first. It's difficult, though. I pray a lot for the people I know who are struggling.”  (Maybe I do add some value!)

This is a commitment which is hard to find even in RL.

Some may disregard this story because it’s about a faith based community or a virtual world.  They’ll dismiss all as either superstition or role play.

I’ve long ago accepted that not all believe in a Higher Being, Whomever She may be.  I recognize that there are all manners of faith from the individual to the group.  I personally believe in God.  (And am eternally grateful that She has a sense of humor or I’d have been in trouble a long time ago.  Remember, in RL, churches and Starbucks are the only places I have yet to be ejected for which Significant Other always marvels at.)

What I do know is that people come together to help others that we’re all better for it.

Let’s focus on the results!

The work of Bec and her colleagues at First UCC reflects this attitude. 

All are welcome regardless of faith and all will be helped!

I’d like to thank Bec for time and hospitality in meeting me for this story.  I know she put aside many important tasks to see me and tell her story.  For this I’m grateful!     

As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.         

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

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I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

          Open roads and kind fires!

1 comment:

Ellwood970 said...

Survivors of Suicide is a support network, often in real time chat. The good works sometimes go unnoticed.