Making Connections in the Age of Social Distancing - YWCA Program Delivery During COVID-19
These last few weeks have been described again and again in many of the same ways: astonishing, evolving, strange, unprecedented. We’re sure you can think of a few more words you are getting tired of hearing.
But they are disorienting times, and language helps us navigate a suddenly very different way of living than what we are used to. Who would have thought Zoom would be one of the most used words of the COVID-19 pandemic?
In addition to finding new ways to describe this experience, one of the biggest tasks has been finding and learning new ways to stay connected while staying apart. At YWCA Metro Vancouver, our staff, program facilitators and participants have risen to the challenge to adapt program and service delivery in ways that are effective, far-reaching and safe. Here are some examples.
YWCA Housing and Crabtree Corner
Many of the YWCA’s programs are essential, including food programs and housing. At Crabtree Corner Community Centre in the Downtown Eastside, staff have shown incredible flexibility to serve breakfast and lunch while respecting rules regarding social distancing. A new program to provide families with nutrient-dense bags of fruit has taken off, and as needs are demonstrated in the coming weeks and months, we are preparing to respond.
YWCA Employment Services
YWCA employment services and training programs will become more essential as the economy absorbs the pandemic’s impact. In-person information sessions and workshops have been postponed or are being offered by phone or online, and all the employment programs have temporarily moved to virtual platforms. Staff is still recruiting participants and facilitating programs that help prepare women for careers in a variety of fields including tech and hospitality, among others. Specialized employment programs for women who have experienced violence, for newcomers to Canada and for older people are in various stages of recruitment and facilitation.
YWCA Mentorship and Single Mothers’ Support Services
YWCA programs that provide interpersonal connection and support, such as mentorship and single mothers’ support programs, will become ever more necessary the longer we are required to practice social distancing. Many of these programs have moved online and we encourage people to connect via phone. We will continue to assess and analyze ideas on how to deliver these groups.
Coming Together, While Staying Apart
The speed at which we are adapting to ensure we can continue to provide our community with services and supports has been inspiring, but we must acknowledge the hurdles and inaccessibility of turning to the virtual world. Many people live without access to technology and with libraries and community centres closed, we need to remain diligent and continue to evolve in order to reach people.
There are learning curves and many added stressors including unexpected child care while working from home, reliance on new technologies and the general uncertainty in the world today.
Crises Entrench Inequality
We take our role as a strong advocate for women and vulnerable families seriously as we consider the impacts of COVID-19 on the communities we serve. Factors like gender, race and socio-economic background impact how this pandemic is experienced. Crises can entrench inequalities.
We’ve been paying close attention to factors that are being compounded by this situation: the uneven distribution of unpaid care, that so many essential service workers are women, and that many of the industries most impacted by layoffs tend to be dominated by women. We also know that women facing violence at home are in more danger with fewer options. We are finding ways to provide immediate support in the short-term and will continue to call attention to the gendered impacts of the pandemic and advocate for an intersectional response to recovery.
It’s hard to think of a time in recent history when the global population was engaged with a shared experience. This shared experience is all the stranger since there are walls between us all - we can’t hug or shake hands or help in ways we are used to. But what is clear is that people find ways to build community even in the most difficult of circumstances and we must focus on a stronger, more inclusive future.
The YWCA has seen many changes in our nearly 125 years, and even though the future feels unclear, we will continue to serve women and families like we always have done. And as always, we welcome any and all connection with you in whatever way we safely can.