Between now and ‘normal’

Waterloo events reconnect us with our sense of community

Story and photos by Juanita Metzger

On a rare Saturday without too many COVID-19 restrictions, Dave Chodos was busy running errands in Uptown Waterloo – including picking out a new guitar at Long & McQuade. Meanwhile, his wife, Natasha Krahn, and their children Sam and Rachel were on a mission.

Accompanied by two school-friend families, the trio zipped around Uptown, searching alleys, public art, building facades and parks for hidden puzzles and signs. Entering the correct answers online gave them clues for the next destinations.

The mission was modelled after a popular television show, but Amazing Race: Family Edition was tailor-made for small groups – and for COVID-friendly fun.

Hosted by the Waterloo Public Library, registered teams completed challenges on a four-kilometre loop around Uptown Waterloo. The event was untimed to prevent crowding at each stop. Participants who completed all 12 clues before the 5 p.m. finish time were entered into a draw for a prize package.

“During COVID, it’s been really hard to get those kinds of new experiences,” Krahn says, “so it just seemed like something fun that we could do as a family that would allow us to get out and about in Uptown Waterloo. It felt like a little bit of normalcy!”

Sam, 12, was thrilled to spend so much time outside with friends he doesn’t get to see very often. Rachel, 10, also loved being outside and learning about cool landmarks in Uptown Waterloo. She especially loved being together with friends, which has been one of the hardest things about the pandemic.

“I’m an extrovert,” Rachel says. “It’s really hard to not be around people all the time.”

Jaymis Goertz, one of the library programmers organizing the Amazing Race events, wanted to create “something that required people to do things other than sit in front of a screen.” Getting out to explore different parts of the city, learning new things, connecting with others and being physically active are antidotes to isolation and promote a greater sense of well-being.

In fact, our social connections are one of the strongest indicators of health and happiness in our lives. Strong social connections are also shown to enhance health by buffering the negative effects of stress and promoting healthier behaviours, which is why over the past year, programs at the Waterloo Public Library have focused on engaging with the community and staying responsive to the literacy and social needs of its patrons.

A second version of the Amazing Race, a partnership between the library and the Uptown Waterloo Business Improvement Association, was planned for mid-June, depending on provincial pandemic guidelines. A third version is expected to run in late summer and take place near the new East Side Library Branch near Rim Park. (Check out > programs & events.)

“First, I want people to remember there’s still good going on right now,” says library programmer Mariah Baldasaro who organized the BIA edition. “Second, it is so important that we’re supporting the businesses in our community. All of the businesses in Uptown have always been so supportive of our programs, and we have the ability to highlight them.”

Solving a challenge in the Uptown BIA Amazing Race Scavenger Hunt would lead teams to a participating business. A special BIA grant helped cover costs. “It adds to the vibrancy of Uptown,” says Tracy Van Kalsbeek, BIA executive director. “Because that’s what we all want at the end of the day, is that we have a vibrant core that people want to come to. It’s all about connection.”

Krahn and her children definitely felt the connection on the Amazing Race. It was a good reminder that this part of community life will return one day soon.

“We can be doing some fun exploring around Uptown Waterloo, we can talk to people – in person! –  we can be enjoying the good weather and it just felt like such a sense of community,” she says.

“There’s this vibrancy that’s been missing,” Krahn adds, “but the Amazing Race felt so life-giving.”

Rachel and Sam are already looking forward to the next Amazing Race event, and there is some serious campaigning and negotiations underway with their parents to make it happen.

“One thing I’ve learned from COVID,” Rachel adds, “is that I can entertain myself without people.”

But it’s not very much fun, and she can’t wait to reconnect with all her friends in meaningful way.