Virtual Program Experiences in the COVID-19 Pandemic
We are writing this post to share the voices of participants who have taken part in our various virtual programs for the last 3 months since the COVID-19 Pandemic began. We had the chance to be a part of a truly insightful virtual meeting where we invited our frequent participants to give us their perspectives on the Pandemic and their experience with Recreational Respite through virtual programming. When our supports moved from in-person to online, our organization was weary on how to replicate certain aspects of in-person supports in the virtual world. The weariness proved to be unwarranted as the participants of our virtual programming continue to be resilient and receptive to change, while maintaining the grounded humanness we need during unprecedented times. One participant felt the virtual programs added “value” to her life and that, certain programs like “Neurofit were good for exercising the brain because right now I can’t even leave the house!” The positivity that exuded from the participants during this challenging discussion was overwhelming and as hosts could not stop smiling while listening their stories. In response to a comment about their positivity, a parent of one of the participants said, “well, it would be better if this never happened but it forces people to be really creative. My son attends three programs every day with your organization and I am so grateful for that. Sometimes I even take part on the sidelines when yoga is happening. You’ll never see me on the video but I like to participate too!”
We certainly need to be creative when designing virtual programs for people of all abilities, from all over Canada, but it seems easy when the creativity already exists in the participants we support. Another participant from the program expressed his appreciation for communication in the virtual programs; “I get to communicate with others, talk about fun stuff, and I FINALLY get to learn new skills like how to be creative with art!” Many of the virtual programs provide an opportunity for participants to learn and develop new skills on a variety of topics like bike skills, communication styles, pop culture, baking, etc. While these programs are intended for skill building, one participant believes they offer a “sense of community, because I have a lot of friends that I still get to see online.” One of the questions we asked during the program was, If you were in charge of virtual programming, what would you have done differently? One participant came prepared to answer all of our questions with a long, hand written list Including her response to this particular one. She’s been a customer with Recreational Respite for a number of years and we’ve created a really beautiful rapport with her. She shared a few ideas on why she loves virtual programs like “they’re fun, I learn a lot and get to participate in discussions.” She also suggested an area of improvement via her personal story. She playfully scolded by advising our team to send out program materials weeks prior to program for more preparation. If she saved her recycling, she could have saved her cardboard pieces for a better robot that is used to teach fixed and growth mind-sets in relation to the environment. Another participant joined in to poke fun saying, “I would be a better boss if I was in charge!”
Even as we share this post, it’s difficult to capture the warmth and connectedness that permeates these programs; the gentle banter and the endearing smiles that envelope us as we facilitate these programs are vital. The easiness and poise that our participants have shown in their ability to adapt to the challenges we’ve been faced with is something we all should aspire to. We feel honoured to know that by working with these participants, we’re reminded that connection isn’t limited by physical contact. We’ve learned that creating accessible platforms for learning can sustain connection in the short term while building skills for the long term. Recreational Respite has been challenged to offer supports and services throughout the pandemic and according to our participants, it’s been duly appreciated. The overall message we received from all our participants was that, in times of chaos and change, Recreational Respite has provided a sense of normalcy, a sense of “routine” and a platform for expression.
Thank you to each and every one of you!