Be the change you wish to see in the world.
In a world full of change, especially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Brain Energy Support Team (BEST), took the quote above to heart.
In 2020, BEST was rocked by the pandemic, like many other organizations. BEST in-person programs were closed, and a major funding source shifted priorities impacting BEST financially. While transformation for the organization and community was not easy, BEST literally made the best of it, exploring new service delivery methods as well as tried and true established models.
Capitalizing on its online and Second Life presence and partners, BEST continues serving the brain injury community. The benefits of learning social, sustainable, and behavioral skills in a virtual world provide unique opportunities and demonstrate the value of virtual worlds for organizational sustainability.
The result was (and is) an empowered, creative, and exciting journey forward for the organization and BEST community alike.
The nonprofit organization had an opportunity to share their story for an international audience at the recent 15th annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference which focused on the use of immersive virtual environments for educational purposes including virtual and augmented reality. Attendees are educators, doctoral students, artists, and nonprofit or service organization professionals that provide educational and/or creative opportunities for their community. The speakers are actively engaged in virtual worlds, especially Second Life, to provide immersive learning experiences for their students and program participants, clients, and even patients.
The 2022 conference theme was Phoenix Rising, with the mission of exploring and sharing ideas about embracing the ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances and innovative technologies to their best effect.
BEST’s own Gloria Kraegel/Namaara MacMoragh shared BEST’s story and experiences on transforming in-person programs and services to virtual platforms as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic. BEST Virtual is going strong, and offers unique opportunities for the brain injury community and beyond.
“I’m proud of so many things. I’m proud of the way our team helped close down physical locations and shift to a completely online operation. I’m proud of the way our community partners have stuck with us and supported us through all of this. I’m proud of the incredible support of our online audience, our program participants, and our online and virtual partners have shown us.
I think what I am most proud of and appreciative for is that our team has remained as close over the past two years as we’d been during the 12 years before COVID overwhelmed us. Many organizations would have folded and that would have been it. Not so for BEST and that’s because of the incredible people on our team.”
And Gloria/Namaara’s biggest challenge with the transition?
“Building a storage unit on my property to store all of the physical assets we didn’t redistribute to others in the community from Our BEST Space in University Place, Washington,” she chuckles.
Aside from the aforementioned storage unit, BEST project partners have been key in collaborations, sharing ideas and inspiration, and conversations.
Gloria/Namaara is grateful for their support.
“Our project partners are both Second Life and real world collaborators,” she says. “For example, BEST hosted a community art exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum in 2019 in Tacoma, Washington. We had so many of our BESTies from across Washington State participate in this amazing show. Renee Emiko Brock, artist and professor, a long-time Second Life project partner joined us for this event Since the onset of COVID, she’s helped us with superhero workshops in Second Life, opened a virtual campus at Etopia and engaged our community in student projects. She did a presentation at this conference about the way she uses Second Life with her Peninsula College students.”
“Whole Brain Health in Second Life is another partner we’ve been working with, especially during our shift from in-person to fully online program delivery,” Gloria/Namaara continues. “They’re a vital partner in helping make our annual CogniCon virtual conference the engaged learning experience that it is. By the way, we’ll host our third BEST CogniCon in October this year. Plus we facilitate a monthly Brain Busters discussion at a virtual model of the Brodmann Brain located on their region. We also partner with Virtual Ability Inc. on best practices for universal design and access for those with physical and/or cognitive challenges in Second Life.”
Where does Gloria/Namaara see the journey forward for BEST? What does the future hold?
As she sees it, it is chock full of opportunities, empowering communities, and so much more.
“The journey forward is filled with so many opportunities to support a broader community of those with cognitive challenges. That excites me.” As for looking toward the future, she says “I think that immersive environments are the future of service delivery. COVID took what was years away and forced everyone, regardless of age, occupation, economic or social position, to adapt quickly and, often, without the skills or tools needed to be successful.”
Gloria/Namaara continues, “However, BEST has always focused our energy on empowering those with brain injury to have meaningful lives and work. In addition to in-person activities and personal coaching, we’ve used meeting software, online tools, and more for a variety of our activities over the years.
BEST is uniquely positioned to support the kind of connections our community wants and needs in a rapidly changing world. For example, in March 2020 when everyone began using Zoom as the video conferencing platform of choice, BEST launched an online, self-paced Zoom course. We also offered facilitators in our network a phone extension and use of our virtual meeting tools.
The media has been full of Facebook calling themselves Meta and their mission to reshape community connections virtually, but the metaverse has been around for over 20 years and we’ve been there for 14 of those years. So, when I look toward the value of immersive, virtual environments BEST is there and we’re building the kind of programming to meet the challenges of the future. Multi-user virtual environments for experiential learning and social connections is the future.
All I can do is invite folks to join us.”
To see Gloria/Namaara’s full presentation at the 15th annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference, see the video attached below.