For over a year we have been asked to isolate and stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19. In an attempt to stay connected with old friends, build new friendships, and create a sense of belonging, St.Amant Foundation and Volunteer Services collaborated to deliver virtual events to the people we support. These events have been a hit!
Thanks to donations, the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund, and a grant from the Harry E. Foster Charitable Foundation, St.Amant Foundation secured just under $20,000 for 68 virtual events scheduled until the end of June 2021. Over 2,100 people have participated in these events.
All events are free of charge. Some, such as Wednesday Zoom Bingo, are exclusively for the people St.Amant supports. However, generous funders have made it possible to open other events, such as Movement and Dance with Madison, to people supported by Abilities Manitoba and to St.Amant staff and their children. “These virtual events have built a sense of community and friendship,” said Tracy Laluk, Manager of Volunteer Services.
The most popular events are bingo, the dance parties and craft nights. St.Amant’s CEO, John Leggat, is known for enjoying the dance parties. “It’s so wonderful to see everyone from staff to the people we support get together, dance, have fun—all while staying safe,” said John. At Bingo, the level of competition is as high as the camaraderie. The event attracts around 100 people every week. “I like to play when I win!” said Darrell, a player at Wednesday Zoom Bingo.
In order to be inclusive and to breakdown financial and technological barriers, St.Amant Foundation and Volunteer Services ensured that everyone St.Amant supports, from those living in community homes to those supported at Health & Transition Services, to those living in their family homes have access to a smart TV with a web camera. “This was a small act with a very big impact,” said Juliette Mucha, Director of St.Amant Foundation. “The people we support may not be able to see their friends in-person, but at least they can see them on a screen.”
Seeing his friends is one of Darrell’s two favourite things about Wednesday Zoom Bingo. “I like to mark X on my sheet. I like seeing people on the other side!” said Darrell.
St.Amant Foundation and Volunteer Services have also distributed iPads, laptops, Kinsmen Jackpot Bingo cards, board games and Netflix subscriptions. For events such as crafts nights, they have distributed comprehensive standardized kits to everyone St.Amant supports. “The joy and excitement on their face when they realize they can keep their kits and don’t have to return them is absolutely heartwarming,” said Juliette.
After the pandemic, St.Amant plans to add a virtual component to its in-person activities. “We have learned how important it is for those who can’t always be there in-person to be connected,” said Tracy. “If, post-pandemic, we have a dance party at 440 River Road, we know that not everybody will be able to make it. So our plan is to set up the technology so that they can be there virtually and enjoy. This pandemic has given us a chance to be more inclusive and we’re going to take it.”