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Country club neighborhood comes together: Online connection jumpstarts activities

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Hank Berry’s 13th birthday was earlier this month, and he had big plans to celebrate.

“We were going to go to Rocky Mount and do this American Ninja Warrior thing and play basketball with friends,” Hank said.

But then the new coronavirus self-isolation protocol began, and the plans were canceled.

Enter the Berrys’ Wilson Country Club neighbors, who made sure his birthday was celebrated. A parade of cars filed past Berry’s house with honking horns and kids hanging out windows holding signs and yelling, “Happy birthday, Hank!”

“He was not expecting this,” said his mother, Mandy Berry. “I think he was a little bit embarrassed. It was a good surprise, though. When you’re stuck inside on your 13th birthday, and for people in the community to do something like that, it means a lot.”

“It’s kind of a silver lining for today,” added his father, Wes Berry.

Hank wasn’t the only neighbor celebrating a birthday. Earlier in the day, Hudson Eichelberger also enjoyed a neighborhood parade for his sixth birthday.

Emily Beaman, who serves as the administrator for a country club neighborhood Facebook page that normally serves as kind of a neighborhood watch site, decided to begin using the page as a way to bring a shut-in neighborhood together and occupied.

“I was in a moms’ Facebook group and saw that another group was suggesting that people create scavenger hunts for neighborhood kids, so we decided to draw rainbows and put them on their doors or windows so that kids in the neighborhood could get outside, walk around and count them,” Beaman said. “I posted that idea on the page, and we had at least 40 people looking for rainbows, even older kids.”

Aspen Evans, daughter of Thomas and Kelly Evans, walked by the Berry house and wished Hank a happy birthday. Mandy Berry asked her if she was out counting rainbows.

“I’ve counted 22 so far,” Aspen said.

Beaman said that the one idea brought the neighborhood area together and helped people forget their feelings of isolation.

“It brought some cheer to folks who felt stuck inside, and it made me feel like we’re all in this together,” she said.

Amy Stadiem, who works as the adaptive physical education teacher for the Wilson County Schools, is now home with her young daughter and son and has worked diligently to keep the neighborhood’s Facebook page full of activity suggestions and is encouraging everyone to upload photos of their projects.

“Everyone is enjoying it, and it’s been a great activity for the children,” Stadiem said. “The kids enjoyed making the rainbows, and it lets kids be creative and gets them out of the house.”

Stadiem said neighborhood Facebook group participant Missy Harris sent a message suggesting a parade for people who had birthdays during this time of isolation.

“We will continue these social distancing parades because we want our neighbors who are celebrating birthdays to feel loved and special,” Stadiem said.

Stadiem said the neighborhood has also participated in a “Chalk Your Walk” day, where neighbors draw pictures or write encouraging messages in chalk on sidewalks and driveways and then can walk around and enjoy the artwork. Future plans include more scavenger hunts and even spirit weeks, where each day has a new theme and families take photos of their takes on that theme.