ALBANY, N.Y. -- For more than five decades, the Little People of America has provided opportunities for people living with dwarfism to share their experiences at regional and national gatherings.
But those face-to-face meetings have now been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, creating disappointment and anxiety among hundreds of people who go through life while short in stature, said Mark Povinelli, a successful actor with dwarfism.
With all regional meetings through May canceled and a national conference slated for July in jeopardy, Povinelli, 48, said Little People of America members are shouldering the cancellations by finding other ways to remain connected.
But it's just not the same, he added.
"This affects communities like ours in unique ways," Povinelli said in an interview with CNHI. "We value so much our brief interactions with people who have our shared experiences. When we don't get that, it can feel pretty isolating."
The organization's 13 regional chapters had each been planning weekend-long events through May. Those have all had to be canceled.
"You really can't get that time back," Povinelli said, noting the group's members relish the camaraderie that awaits them at the events.
"We feel this very profoundly," Povinelli said. "Even though we all have interactions with others all day, just like anybody else, they are almost always interactions with people who don't assimilate with our experience."
Those going through life short in stature are never made to feel they are different at LPA meetings, Povinelli said.
"It is always very positive," he added. "You can talk to somebody eye to eye. You can talk to somebody and whisper in their ear in a loud environment without having to beckon them to come down to your level. You can hug someone without having to hug their waist."
At the annual convention -- the last one was held last July in San Francisco -- LPA members radiate so much enthusiasm and enjoy themselves so much that conference planners usually remark that hosting the group brought an emotion lift to the hotel staffers themselves, he said.
"These meetings are literally life-altering for our members," Povinelli said, recalling it was at such an event that he found a girlfriend who would become his wife, Heather. "They really are like a family reunion, a wedding, a high school prom all rolled into one."
As a working actor, Povinelli said he was not impacted by the societal upheaval unleashed by the COVID-19 disease until March 12, when he was in a Toronto hotel room while for a movie project. He said he sensed a "cacophony of panic" coming through cable news reports and text messages to his phone.
In a message he later composed to LPA members across the nation, the Ohio native recalled it “was the loneliness and isolation I felt, being 3000 miles away from my partner and my children as the world was changing, by the minute, that hit me so hard."
While the hold on events is disappointing, LPA members are accustomed to persevering through long lapses in personal interactions with one another.
"We're kind of used to this long-distance waiting game," Povinelli said. "We might even be more equipped for it than others."
Joe Mahoney is the New York State Reporter for CNHI. Reach him at email@example.com.