Connection in the Time of COVID

It’s a warm summer day and the sun is shining. On any other Thursday morning we would be opening the windows at the Jean Pike Centre, laying out yoga mats, greeting members of our Community Life Program, and warming up into the first poses of our weekly yoga class. This summer, though? We’re opening up the laptop, adjusting our webcam, and logging into Zoom. This is the “new normal” during the time of COVID-19. So much of our work in creating belonging for people of all ages and abilities in our community is about connection. Usually that’s in-person connection: visits with seniors, young families coming together for infant playgroups, facilitating our adult clients to pursue new relationships in the community. It’s been a huge transition to move our support relationships online – not only for ourselves, but also for the children and youth, families, and adults we support.

Screen fatigue is real!

A few months into this ‘new normal’ and we’re finding that our regulars aren’t necessarily up for yet another online activity group or workshop. And for those who are, accessing the technology necessary to participate can be a barrier. We’re discovering that some of the individuals and families we support are feeling really isolated. Truth be told, at times we’re feeling pretty helpless in our ability to help foster connections and support. But, while these times continue to present ongoing challenges, they have also created opportunities for our staff to think differently, forcing us to question our assumptions and to re-think how we deliver many of our programs.

These new ways of connecting have provided some really beautiful, unexpected benefits.

In our Infant Development Programme we’ve been prerecording our online parent workshops and classes to share online. Many families have told us that they’ve been able to participate in our programs even more than before, since now they can watch the sessions at their convenience when they’re unable to make a class at a set time.

In our Better at Home program, in place of our usual in-person visits or rides to appointments, our volunteers have been calling each senior on our list for check-ins – two times each week! We’re connecting with more people than we had prior to the pandemic, and without the distractions of errands or household needs, we find that the conversations are leading to deeper connections between our volunteers and seniors than we’ve seen previously.

Yet another example comes from our Community Inclusion program, where we’ve been continuing our Cook Club online via Zoom. After sending out the shopping list in advance, we have an online cook-along, and work through a recipe together. One of our participants recently told us that this new format has actually taught him to cook! Before the pandemic, in an in-person group, he’d mostly just watch what was happening, but now he’s learning new skills and gaining confidence from having to go through each step by himself.

What a learning curve for us all – and it’s not over yet! As we continue to adapt to our changing circumstances, we’ll keep looking for new ways to keep that connection going.

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