Sometimes a box can help you think outside the box. Especially if two creative people put a lot of considered care into packing that box.
The boxes contain a week’s worth of creative exercises and activities, drawing on exercises that Hilberry has developed for her creativity classes at CC. She also developed a series of creative exercises for children for this purpose: Stephenson says the activities are suitable for “anyone who can sit still for 10 minutes.” The boxes come complete with all art supplies, wooden blocks, papers, and glue sticks needed for the creative exercises. Copies of Natalie Goldberg’s creative writing classic, “Writing Down the Bones,” also are included in some of the boxes. All boxes include a downloadable activity guide, as well as coffee from Switchback Coffee Roasters and candles poured by Skye Candle Company. (A donation from Zach and Nikki McComsey allowed them to purchase materials from local businesses, which was important to Hilberry and Stephenson.)
So far, Hilberry and Stephenson have distributed 73 Converge Quarantine Boxes, and are working with Harrison High School to distribute boxes to all 13 members of the English Department. They also are working with Palmer and Atlas high schools and plan to build out the distribution as funding allows. Additionally, boxes have been sent to families in six states — Colorado, Michigan, Kansas, Utah, Illinois, and California — as well as a box delivered to South Africa.
The downloadable creative activity guide is structured so that an individual, couple, or family can follow it for a week, with different exercises provided each day. The morning starts with practicing mindfulness; in the mid-day there are activities designed to engage stuck-at-home children; and the evening activities are in-depth exercises designed for the adults to come to know, understand, and appreciate each other better.
“With all the anxiety during this uncertain time it helps to be doing something creative. Doing something positive, making something, helps address anxiety,” says Hilberry.
Stephenson, co-founder, of Converge, a Colorado Springs organization that seeks to build bridges of connection between disparate parts of the Colorado Springs community, conceived of creating the quarantine activity boxes in mid-March and quickly enlisted the help of Hilberry, who he had worked with in the past, in designing the contents. They wanted tangible tools to help people feel more connected in a time of isolation and Zoom meetings.
“This has felt like one of the more meaningful programs I have ever been a part of,” he says.
Hilberry says she’s a “connoisseur of exercises that take someone very quickly to a level of creativity they might not get to by themselves.” A well-structured exercise “can do a lot of work. It can take people places quickly.”
Those are the exercises she turned to for inclusion in the creativity boxes. These exercises, the ones she can always count on, can have strong bonding effects. “You get to know yourself and your own closest and dearest friends better. Deprived of each other during the social isolation, we don’t get to have the kind of exchange across households that we used to have,” she says.
The block activity included in the box uses 1½-by-1½-inch wooden cubes and invites people — kids included in this one — to find images or words to put on the six sides of the block that “represent pieces of who they are,” says Hilberry.
“It’s a really simple thing to do — making the blocks is not hard — but you feel like you’ve created a little sculpture when you finish. It’s very satisfying. We call the activity of making these together a ‘Block Party’,” says Hilberry, with a nod to Colorado College’s signature Block Plan.
The boxes took about two weeks to develop, with Stephenson and his wife, Kelli, assembling the contents in their 490-square-foot home and then delivering the free boxes to the recipients. People were excited to get something physical on their doorstep, says Stephenson. “Tangibility is so important now, seeing as we’re separate from each other.”
Going forward, the plan for the creativity boxes is to begin delivering boxes to communities prone to social isolation: area nursing homes, child welfare organizations, and Colorado Springs families working from home.
Converge also offers a fellowship program for area high school students from Harrison High School Atlas Preparatory School, and James Irwin Charter School to engage in literature-based programming intended to generate exposure to the life of the mind and action in the public square.