Despite pandemic, people find a tight-knit community through Virtual Bingo Nights.

Virtual Bingo's tight-knit community has endured through thick and thin, reaching far beyond UNL campus and incorporating not only students but their families and university staff.
Virtual Bingo's tight-knit community has endured through thick and thin, reaching far beyond UNL campus and incorporating not only students but their families and university staff.

In the midst of a pandemic, it can be a struggle to form genuine and lasting connections. While some virtual activities can putter out over the course of a few weeks, Virtual Bingo Nights have become an ongoing success, attracting UNL students and their families each Wednesday evening.

The weekly Virtual Bingo Nights, hosted by Student Involvement, first began in the summer after students were sent home from campus. While the events were originally intended to only last eight weeks, the positive response led to Bingo nights continuing again during the university's three-week sessions. Bingo has been successful in maintaining a consistent number of players, with up to 40 participants some weeks.

This achievement can largely be attributed to the strong community built around Virtual Bingo Nights, even as the events happened digitally. Reshell Ray, the associate director for Student Involvement, said the consistent schedule and easy time commitment made Bingo an appealing option for players to attend every week. One family even structured their dinner time around Bingo Nights to ensure they wouldn't miss it.

"What kept players coming back is that Bingo is something simple. It was easy for people to be engaged and involved," said Ray.

Inside jokes and traditions have arisen during the course of Bingo Nights, creating a fun environment for all players. One week, Ray had an idea to add a playful element to the evening. She sent a quick joke into the Zoom chat, which unintentionally sparked a months-long tradition of players sending their own jokes into the chat for others to enjoy each week.

Instead of simply playing straight Bingo games, the nights expanded to include other patterns as well. Players won once they formed the shape of an "N" for Nebraska, "C" for Coronavirus or "H" for Huskers.

When drastic events occurred, such as the killing of George Floyd last summer and the storming of the Capitol this month, Bingo Nights served as a lighthearted escape for attendees to laugh and release tension, easing their mind and body after intense weeks.

"It's cool knowing that we are participating in the same event all across the country. I've also appreciated the fact that UNL students' friends and family can participate. My mom has played each round with me, and it's been a great bonding experience for us" said Audrey Kreun, a frequent player.

Another feature of Virtual Bingo Nights is a rotating panel of guest callers. Ryan Lahne, director of the Nebraska Unions, and TJ McDowell, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, have joined in to call numbers. This unique connection helped build a community around social engagement.

According to Ray, players enjoyed having guest callers because it showed university officials' commitment and willingness to take time out of the day to interact directly with students and their loved ones.

"My favorite part of virtual Bingo is all the funny jokes and commentary that the callers include throughout the game. They do a great job getting everyone involved and laughing," said Kreun.

The reach of Virtual Bingo Nights expanded far beyond Lincoln or even the state of Nebraska. Nikita Mansinghani Zoomed in from Oman, Jordan, meaning she played at 5 a.m. because of the time difference. Other far-away players include Karolayn Chavez Loor from Ecuador and Lauren Broussard from Louisiana.

In-person Bingo nights were held before the pandemic, with much success, and could return again. These Bingo nights have attracted large donors with huge prizes such as TVs in the past.

Virtual Bingo's tight-knit community has endured and provided a welcoming environment for anyone to find comfort and connection.