Marco Polo was built to be good for you. It was built for staying in touch with the people who matter most in your life. So in the spirit of helping others draw strength by drawing toward each other, we asked our Marco Polo community for stories about how the app helps them connect right now, when social distancing makes it harder than ever to be physically together.
Here are just a few ways people have come together to stay healthy, share resources and support, and find glimmers of joy in their new reality.
Housebound scavenger hunt: Brenna
Eighteen months ago Brenna Burrows and her young family moved to the coastal town of Qingdao, in China’s Shandong province, for her husband’s job. They returned from Christmas in the States to a country preparing for COVID-19 lockdown.
Housebound with two daughters under age six, Brenna says everyone was getting (to put it mildly) bored. Until on the 20th day of isolation, a friend in the U.S. offered to create a daily Marco Polo scavenger hunt for the kids – something simple and fun that they could look forward to each morning.
Brenna’s friend was familiar with the kids’ interests, and from previous Polos, knew the basic layout of Brenna’s home. Each day, she’d record a set of clues, usually in the form of a poem, for Brenna and her daughters to wake up to.
Following the clues might lead to something as simple as a doorknob or a set of photographs on the wall, or to something as poignant as the ocean view out their window. Brenna recorded Polos while the hunts were in progress; Brenna’s friend always Polo’d back with messages of strength and affirmation.
Brenna wasn’t in on any of the pre-planning. Each scavenger hunt surprised and delighted her as much as it did the girls.
“I kid you not, it made me cry because it was just so thoughtful,” Brenna says. “It was so small…but such a good way to start out the day.”
Bake it off: Sidni
As coronavirus escalated in the western half of the United States, Sidni Dill, of Charlotte, N.C., Polo’d Qaitlin, a dear high school friend living in Seattle. They hadn’t really talked in more than a year. And to their mutual delight, they found that they were both coping with the epidemic by stress-baking like crazy.
Sidni and Qaitlin spent a day together making chocolate chip cookies over Marco Polo. As they prepped and baked, following their recipe steps out loud, they chatted and caught up properly. The whole time, it was like they were in each other’s kitchens.
“It reminded us that it’s not that hard to keep up with each other if you make the effort,” Sidni says. “Even though it was instigated by COVID-19, I’m glad for what came out of it.”
A lifeline for extroverts: Danielle
We’ve heard from many self-proclaimed extroverts relying on Marco Polo for their emotional care and feeding.
“We’re under these strict orders to not go out and not be around people, but here I am with a parent in ICU, and I don’t have friends that I can go grab a drink with or go get a hug from,” says filmmaker Danielle Keller, of Bentonville, Ark. “But they are contacting me through Marco Polo and encouraging me through this process. I’m so grateful.”
Danielle usually travels extensively for work and has friends all over the country. Faced with a dwindling livelihood, she and her husband are both trying to work remotely, home-school their kids, and support Danielle’s mother, who was recently admitted to the hospital intensive care unit. Although her mom’s health issues aren’t related to coronavirus, Danielle can’t visit her.
The days are leaving Danielle overwhelmed and depleted. Loneliness sets in, despite her full house. So at night, she unwinds and refuels with those Polos of love and support.
Strength for the most vulnerable: KT
Like Danielle, many are using Marco Polo to stay in touch with people whose underlying health conditions mean they cannot, under any circumstances, leave their homes, hospitals, or facilities – cancer patients, elderly relatives, people with autoimmune disorders.
KT Sloan, of Paso Robles, Calif., worked for 20 years as an educator, teacher trainer, and coach before her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis five years ago. She now provides one-on-one and group support to others living with the disease.
KT says members of the MS community, already at risk for isolation, loneliness, and depression, feel particularly vulnerable during this time of social distancing. So she’s communicating more than ever over Marco Polo with the individuals and groups she supports, as well as with caregiving peers. They’re focusing on self-care, healthy habits, and processing their experiences authentically.
“Marco Polo is a nice way to let people see the real you,” KT says. “In our MS community, we don’t care if we’re showered or not. We don’t care if sometimes people are lying in bed during our meetings. There’s just a real focus on what matters most, and that’s connection.”
Preschool in session: Leigh Ann
As a former educator, KT believes that technology will uncover some silver linings during this hard collective adjustment, in part by helping us adopt new ways of teaching and learning.
That’s also what Leigh Ann Sharp, a preschool teacher in Huntsville, Ala., discovered almost unintentionally. When Leigh Ann learned her school would be shuttered, she let herself briefly grieve and then, as so many teachers have done, she rallied.
Leigh Ann hadn’t even heard of Marco Polo until all of this began. But as soon as she learned her way around the app, she saw its potential – particularly the groups feature. When she invited her families to join a “little preschool group,” all 18 answered the call.
Leigh Ann began a daily routine of reading aloud, posting links to indoor, outdoor, and online activities, and sharing a bedtime story (which some families have called the best part of their day). She encourages parents to Polo back with their children, to show what they’ve been up to at home during their separation.
These Polos have brought the classroom together, helped parents manage their new housebound-with-kids routine, and inspired staff and leadership.
“When I showed my Polos to one of our school directors, it brought tears to her eyes,” Leigh Ann says. “She was so incredibly grateful that I was able to explore and get us started with Marco Polo.”
Teachers on track: Tiffany
Secondary and high-school teachers need each other’s support right now too, particularly as they quickly pivot to an online curriculum during the epidemic. Tiffany Iwinski, a music teacher in the south suburbs of Chicago, went back to work as a substitute in February after time away.
Almost immediately, her district closed schools to fight the spread of coronavirus, asking teachers to come together to create a fast action plan for online learning.
Collaboration was key among the seven district music teachers, but Tiffany had been gone long enough that she didn’t know many of her new colleagues. On top of that, everyone was grappling with newly disrupted personal schedules – caring for kids, taking care of elderly relatives, even just finding time to vote – and couldn’t find a single mutually available time.
Holding team meetings over Marco Polo helped the teachers bypass scheduling challenges, get to know each other face-to-face, and plan efficiently while affording them the freedom and flexibility to take care of personal priorities.
“Marco Polo is the perfect place to meet,” Tiffany says. “We have discussed music education more effectively than ever before.”
“This virus is an incredible teacher. This is not a time for filters; this is a time for honesty, truth, and speaking what we’re experiencing.” – KT Sloan
Strong and fit: Tierney
We’ve heard from many who’ve taken their workouts and fitness classes to Marco Polo. As she became rigorous about practicing social distancing, Tierney Bricker, of Los Angeles, missed the sense of connection and community she got from teaching live yoga sculpt classes.
Tierney knew her friends weren’t going to the gym, either. So she started Poloing her daily circuits and exercises.
Tierney says that Marco Polo helps her feel closer to students (or in her case, friends) than streaming her classes live because it’s hard to know that people are watching live but not be able to interact with them. This way, people can watch on their own time and even Polo back with questions.
“It’s been so nice to be able to connect and move our bodies together while physically apart,” she says.
Grounded in faith: Cassi
As faith-based groups worldwide take worship and programming online, Marco Polo provides scaffolding for “church without walls.”
Before the coronavirus crisis, Cassi Kretz and her husband formed a Bible study group with five other young married couples from their non-denominational Christian church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Now, they’re Poloing daily to check in on each other, find out who needs extra prayer and support, and help each other get through.
Cassi prefers Marco Polo to texting because everyone can see each other’s faces and interpret their tone of voice. It’s so much more personal. It also works far better than live video meetings because everyone can watch and respond when they have time.
“The Marco Polo app is perfect for a way to have face-to-face connection with a group of people,” she says.
Share how you’re staying connected during this critical time by using #PoloTogether and tagging @MarcoPoloApp.