Despite more than a year of challenging restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, CLBC Community Councils have continued their role to encourage, inspire, and lead projects and partnerships that support community inclusion and belonging.
For some Councils, the pandemic has ignited new ways of connecting and partnering with community that have resulted in reaching more individuals and families than ever before.
Responding to the needs of families: North Region Community Council
“All of our lives have changed during COVID,” says Anita Clegg, a family member who sits on the CLBC North Region Community Council. “Whole families are deeply impacted. Parents and caregivers are very stressed out. Routines have been disrupted. Our sons and daughters having to comply with rules they don’t have the skills for. Losing jobs, friends, sports. Parents are scared their loved ones won’t be able to unlearn behaviours from this pandemic.”
In a large, geographically spread out region, the pandemic made the most vulnerable individuals and families more difficult to reach. Families felt isolated in their struggles to support their loved ones at home while supports were available only virtually.
“Our Council needed some training on how to respond to these families,” says Anita, who sees the Council as a place in the community families can come to for information and resources.
With the goal of finding ways to support families and individuals, the Council worked with the local CLBC team and reached out to the Northwest Child Development Centre. They started to share ideas about what could be done together to support the resiliency of families during this time.
This resulted in a plan to bring Kim Barthel and the Relationship Matters team in to deliver practical online workshops that would help give families and individuals the tools to face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kim and her team tailored the workshops to three different groups: adults with young children, adults with youths or young adult children, and professionals. They covered topics like fostering adaptability and resilience, self-regulation and self-compassion, and strategies for complex and challenging behaviour.
With well-organized technical support and the use of virtual platforms, the series of five workshops reached over 500 families and service providers across the North region.
Celebrating connection: Central and Upper Island Community Council
“For people with diverse abilities who take part, the dances create a wonderful atmosphere to be able to connect and see each other online,” says Wendy Hall, a family member on the CLBC Central Island Community Council. “They have time after the music stops to chat and catch up. To say, ‘I haven’t seen you for a while! How are you doing?’”
In past years, Nanaimo Community Dances have been a twice-annual tradition, taking place on Valentine’s Day and Halloween, and creating a fun, inclusive and social atmosphere for people to get together around music. Their organizer, Neil Cutler, a support worker from Nanaimo, reached out to the Community Council for help with supporting these community events. The Council thought it was a great idea and members were happy to get involved, helping with food, promotion and other areas to make the events a success.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for in-person dances were suspended. But recognizing them as important places for people to connect, Neil shifted to online virtual dances. In the new format, the dances weren’t just twice a year, but every Friday and open to anyone interested in joining. The council continued to provide their support, and members have been among the many excited attendees who joined from not just Nanaimo, but from across of the Vancouver Island, other communities in B.C., and even from the United States. Neil uses Facebook and the website virtualcommunitydances.com to share information about the next upcoming events.
With the pandemic affecting their communities, the Council also was seeking ways to recognize those who were doing a great job to help keep people with diverse abilities connected and supported.
Neil was among a number of community members the Council recognized with awards and official letters highlighting their achievements.
“He has just done amazing supporting people with diverse abilities to find their leadership potential, including giving certificates to individuals recognizing their talents. This has meant a lot to the people who have received them,” says Wendy.
The Council also recognized local service providers and support workers for their work to keep people safe and supported, as well as local business Midland Liquidators for keeping personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies readily available, and Body Tempo Health and Fitness for supporting the health and wellness of people in a safe way.
Nanaimo Transit Bus Drivers were also highlighted for their polite and respectful service, keeping the buses clean and sanitized, and facing the risks of transporting people throughout the community during the pandemic.
“Kara (a self advocate Community Council member) and I were able to hop on a bus and present the award to one of the many drivers on behalf of all of his colleagues,” says Wendy. “We gave a little speech recognizing all of their contributions and the driver was so pleased. He said he knew exactly where he was hanging his award!”
Building relationships: North Okanagan Community Council
“One of our key goals as a Council is to find ways to support self advocates to connect and form natural relationships,” says Debbie Moore, a family member on the North Okanagan Community Council. “One piece of feedback we were regularly hearing was that people faced challenges finding ways to connect with each other.”
Not long before the COVID-19 pandemic started, the Council had hosted an event at a local library. It included representatives from the Canadian Mental Health Association there to talk about anxiety and mental wellness, and the local RCMP sharing information about street smarts and how to stay safe. But plans for a follow up event were delayed when physical distancing meant people couldn’t connect in person.
“We wanted to continue this work, but we had to go online,” says Debbie. The Council connected with service provider agency posAblities who helped coordinate and deliver a virtual session for self advocates around healthy relationships. “They covered a lot of practical topics like keeping yourself safe online, what real friendship looks like, and ways to use dating sites safely. For those who attended, they were fully engaged and found it really helpful. It was great for them to just have a safe place to talk about some really candid stuff.”
Working with posAbilities, an agency that has experience developing resources and coordinating learning sessions, “was really straightforward,” says Debbie. “It was cost effective, the content was appropriately delivered and the communication was spot on.”
Although it was intended as a temporary measure until in-person events can resume, Debbie notes that “people were hungry for more” and there is enthusiasm to explore future virtual events.
Across the province, other Community Councils have found ways to embrace their role of working collaboratively to support the individuals and families CLBC serves and their communities.
The South Island Council partnered with the Special Olympics Champions for Inclusive Health Campaign to host an evening of virtual story telling for individuals and families to share their lived experience around access to health supports and overall well-being.
Members of the Thompson Cariboo Council handed out nearly 500 hand-made masks from a generous donor to people in need in Williams Lake, Kamloops, Merritt and Clearwater.
Early in the pandemic, the Kootenay Community Council decided it was important to meet more often to support and hold space for each other during these scary and isolating times, and to work together on their shared goals. They have a couple of projects currently in the works, including a lending library and a plan to plant trees in local communities with plaques celebrating individuals with diverse abilities.
CLBC’s 13 Community Councils operate across the province to encourage, inspire, lead and support community inclusion and participation of people with developmental disabilities in all aspects of community life.
Currently CLBC Councils are working on important topics that include recognizing inclusive employers, building awareness of the need for more inclusive housing and mapping of community resources.
Councils are made up of self advocates, family members, service providers, community members and employers.
Many Councils are seeking new members to join them.
For anyone interested in learning more or taking part, visit the CLBC website here. You can click on the links to find your nearest local Community Council, including ways to get in touch with them.