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Putting their hearts into staying connected

By Staff | Apr 10, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Hearts decorate windows in downtown Rugby businesses. Numerous Rugby residents have joined the Facebook group #AWorldofHearts, which now boasts more than 450,000 members worldwide. The group began in Bismarck.

Known for tight-knit communities sometimes spread miles apart, North Dakota has always been home to people finding new ways to stay connected to family and friends.

Morning visits with friends in coffee shops and truck stops and phone calls have given way in recent years to emails, text messages and social media.

Staying connected has become more of a challenge lately, however.

A national health emergency caused by a pandemic early this year brought recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the North Dakota Department of Health that is keeping people home for the most part. Executive orders by government officials have closed down schools. Churches and businesses deemed non-essential have also closed their doors.

Americans in rural communities such as Rugby use social media to eliminate the physical distance between themselves and others by a margin of more than 60 percent, according to a social media fact sheet published by Pew Research in June 2019.

One social media platform helped Bismarck resident Mandy Gill throw a lifeline to people living in towns like Rugby and urban communities on both coasts of the United States. Most states with large populations have put even stricter measures in place to keep people home than the North Dakota recommendations.

Gill’s idea to form a social media group started small last month with a simple idea.

“Friday March 20, I was on Facebook and I came across a post of a gal creating hearts to put in her windows,” Gill wrote in a social media message to the Tribune. “She got the idea from a group based out of Canada. I followed the tags/links, saw the groups and thought it would be fun to do in Bismarck. So I made a post asking if anyone would be interested.”

Gill named her group #A World of Hearts.

“I created the group and posted in a couple local groups to put out feelers, went to bed with 8 members,” Gill wrote. “My husband woke me up Saturday morning and told me I needed his help because there were 1300 people.”

Membership numbers soared from that day.

“I had no idea the group would catch on!” Gill added. “I figured my daughter’s classmates or family could (participate in the group) to pass some time.”

The group now has more than 450,000 members.

“Late last week my oldest colored in a state map and we found all 50 states represented,” Gill wrote. “We also found all 7 continents. I did see a post today from someone in Austria!”

Participation in the group centers on the simple concept of showing support for friends, neighbors and community through art with a heart theme.

Many Pierce County residents have embraced the chance to show their support for one another by displaying various forms of hearts in their windows and yards.

Rugby resident Cindy Brossart, owner of Cindy’s Country Cupboard, said via social media message, “I was invited to join (#A World of Hearts). I love seeing all the wonderful displays of hearts. So many great designs! I have two granddaughters and they have decorated with hearts and even on their driveway with chalk!”

Holly Niemi, owner of Holly’s Stitches and Crafts, said a friend invited her to join when the group began.

“I’ve put hearts up at my store and home,” Niemi said. “I love hearing and seeing all the wonderful posts,” she added. “We need positivity, love and smiles.”

Rugby resident Jennifer Dockter also joined the group. Her home’s windows display paper hearts created by her children.

“I saw other people on my Facebook newsfeed posting their heart-decorated windows with the hashtag of #aworldofhearts,” Dockter wrote. “It piqued my interest and when I visited the hashtag, I saw thousands of people sharing their hearts from across the United States. It is a beautiful way for people to show their creativity while spreading positive messages and beauty in a time of uncertainty during isolation. It pulls us all together on the same team, no matter how different we all may be, to band together to ride out this storm.”

Dockter added, “I had also discovered that it was originated by a lady in Bismarck, so that was a great nod to ND.”

Heart-themed artwork featured on the group’s page ranges from mosaics of colored paper hearts filling windows to heart-shaped rock gardens.

“There are tons of great posts, it’s hard to pick just one,” Gill wrote about the creative contributions. “You will have to scroll through the photos and check it out!”

Gill said she wasn’t sure about how #A World of Hearts would evolve through the coronavirus crisis.

“I’m not sure what will be next, hopefully the lift of social distancing,” Gill wrote, adding a laughing emoji to her message. “I’m definitely keeping my heart open to what may come of this.”

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