Wyoming Youth Services has contracted with to lead the , the initiative begun in the spring of 2020 in response to the global pandemic. “Wyoming loves to volunteer,” Hautman says of the Kindness Connection. “I hope that we can have a more far-reaching effect beyond the pandemic.”

The Kindness Connection incorporates a variety of resources for residents and families to help them maintain social connection, positive attitudes, and good mental health during this stressful time. Programs include local interest groups, pastoral care and social workers, and Kindness Ambassadors. One of Hautman’s first actions as director was to launch a Facebook page for the initiative.

An Indiana native, Hautman and her family relocated to Wyoming from Nashville, Tennessee, in 2016. Her experience in public education, arts and culture, and non-profit work, she says, “felt like a perfect opportunity.”  She teaches writing part-time at UC, so part-time community work fit naturally into her schedule and interest. Her Storytelling Circle was one of the Kindness Connection’s first interest groups to meet, and she has plans to grow the already-popular initiative in new directions.

“We’re starting a youth-led ‘Kindness Corps,’ to bring in more young people to create programs,” she says. Not only will this benefit the city, but “at a time when summer jobs and internships are scarce, we can build their resumes and pay them a stipend for their work.”

The interest groups have received a good response so far. Anne Brack, who organizes the Guided Meditation Group for , estimates that a dozen new members have joined since the Kindness Connection began. “Not everyone attends every session,” she says, “But we also provide the links to meditations you can do at your own convenience. I think peace and calm can be hard to come by in times like this.”

Other groups have seen similar results. The Role Playing Adventure group has introduced Dungeons and Dragons to about 20 new players so far, and several Wyoming residents have begun Urban Sketching. Other groups include a Virtual Spa Night, RuPaul’s Drag Race Watch Party, and Home Beer Brewing, but anyone interested in starting a new group is encouraged to visit the website or Facebook page.

One area where the Kindness Connection can use more volunteers is the Kindness Ambassadors program. Ambassadors reach out proactively to households in their area with letters, notes, phone calls or visits to bring positivity and connection. “We have a small group now, but we’d like for people to take part on their own streets,” she says. “We’d like to reach every house in Wyoming with postcards, check-ins, people watching out for their neighbors.”

Funding for the initiative comes from a grant that runs through October 1 of this year, but Hautman hopes to make the Kindness Connection a permanent part of Wyoming life, even beyond the pandemic. “This is an important way for us to support one another,” she says. “There is tremendous positivity, hope, and kindness in our community.”

Editor’s Note: The earlier version of this story incorrect stated that Shannon Hautman was hired by the . She is a contractor to Wyoming Youth Services, which provides funds for the position through a grant. She is not an employee of the City of Wyoming.