HUG connects those with special needs, even during the pandemic

Melissa Caulfield and her mom Terry Boatner are reminiscing about all the fun social activities that Melissa did with the organization Help Us Gather, or HUG.

"They get together and they laugh and they talk and they are able to keep up with one another and what's going on in their lives," said Boatner. 

HUG's mission is to use its website to connect people with disabilities to social events and activities in the Tampa Bay area.

"We work with more than 80 organizations in the area to advertise their social events specially designed for those with special needs," said Ashley Richmond, the community relations specialist for HUG. 

Because of COVID-19, groups canceled their events. So HUG came up with another way to keep the group connected by getting the word out about virtual events. 

"For our friends with special needs, we just want to make sure that they still have an opportunity to interact with their friends and have a reason to smile every day," Richmond said. 

"It's like being there," Melissa said. 

The site highlights events from virtual yoga to  Zoom stretching class.

"On any given day there's kickboxing even their social events, trivia nights, movie nights so there's still a lot going on," said Richmond. 

Melissa says it changed her life.  "It’s kept me from being lonely and bored."

Melissa and her mom say the experience has been a blessing. 

“I really think that she has been able to withstand this better than we have because she has something to look forward to and practically every day she is meeting up with her friends," Boatner said. 

"Yeah it’s a lot of fun," Melissa said.