Exploring Social Connection in Times of Social Distancing

by Dorothee Birker, Communications and Development Coordinator for KCR Community Resources

‘We are all in this together’ has been recited over and over as a well meaning catchphrase to give us strength and comfort as we grapple with a new COVID-19 world.  It’s a simple phrase that speaks volumes about the human need to be connected. When we feel bound, tethered or grounded together we aren’t weathering the COVID storm alone.  However, while the phrase is encouraging, it may not be that true. We are in the storm together, but the type of boat we are in varies greatly.

Certainly all of us have been impacted by the pandemic. And certainly, all of us have had to struggle with our new circumstances.  This is new territory and we are learning to cope as we go through it. This pandemic is hard. But while we are all in it together, our individual experiences, our toolboxes and our ability to cope, are vastly different.

The truth is that, a better catchphrase would be the Dickensian “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  For many individuals and families, there have been moments of slowing life down, of taking time to appreciate and to connect.  For other individuals and families, the ones that are already marginalized or vulnerable, it is a much harder time.  For people that don’t have large families to stay in a bubble with, it’s lonely.

For families and individuals that are already isolated, unsure of where to go for resources or help, they are going to be set even further adrift.  Families that have already been fighting to keep their heads above water, are going to have less stamina than those that have been floating comfortably. Even families that thought they were secure and managing okay, have had their safety nets taken away and are learning how to survive in a new world.

For some people, staying home as a family has simplified and comfortably slowed down hectic lives. Everyone needing to live, work and play in the same space has offered opportunities for new ways of being together and learning about each other.  It’s lead to a surge of crafting, baking and home-making.

For other families, everyone needing to live, work and play in the same space, has added untold stress that has led to the home being an unsafe space. And for others, kids not being able to go to school means a lack of access to food programmes and vital supports.

For many families and individuals, connection is one of the biggest factors to help them get through difficulties. We are social creatures and having strong social connections makes a world of difference to our stamina, resilience and capacity to cope with the new reality.

So, in a world where social distancing is mandated, where facilities are closed, events and activities are cancelled and the way we do things changes so rapidly, how do we stay connected?  Although not quite the same as in person contact, virtual gatherings and digital platforms have helped many of us stay close to friends, family and the world. It isn’t the same as IRL, but it is a connection. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to access technology the same way, so there are limitations and barriers here also.

But there are options and opportunities for everyone and KCR (Kelowna Community Resources) is a great first stop to access them.

For over three years, the Central Okanagan Family Hub has been a great space for families to get connected to the community, as well as to information, resources and referrals. While COVID has temporarily forced the closure of the physical space that houses, the Hub, we are still here delivering valuable services.  The Family has now gone mobile to meet the exponentially growing need in the community.  The Family Outreach team is able to get out into the community to meet families where they are at, offering opportunities for play, connection and support. With support from community funders, the outreach team is also able to provide life essentials and help to address food security for vulnerable families.  The outreach team is also able to offer support and referrals so that families can access healthcare, child care, stable housing and mental health services.

For many people, volunteering is their best connection tool and while initially the pandemic may have stalled some volunteering opportunities, the community quickly rose up to the challenge to support others. Whether as formal volunteers working with organizations, or grass-roots groups starting up to address a need, thousands of people forged forward to make a difference and help where they could.  In addition to being the volunteer centre of the central Okanagan, KCR also engages many volunteers who help us to provide the wide array of supports offered.

At times, having a special family friend in their lives, is the best connection any family can have. The family friend programme pairs a screened, trained, competent family friend for friendship, support, mentoring and connection to community resources with single parent families to let them know they are not alone. This ongoing relationship is a valuable and consistent connection for the single parent and the family.

For newcomers to Canada, understanding cultural and language differences is hard at the best of times and during a pandemic, when everything changes, it becomes even more difficult. The settlement and employment mentors at KCR are able to help newcomers navigate this time and offer valuable connections to the community. Even while these mentors are grappling with their own challenges during the pandemic, they are there for their mentees, offering life and employment supports.

Sharing expert knowledge and information, our community services workshop facilitators, help non-profit organizations thrive and achieve their mandates. Their commitment to supporting non-profit organizations helps to make enduring positive impact on the whole community.

The highly trained volunteer Crisis Line responders are a vital community safety net that exists 24/7, ready to connect people in crisis with the support and resources they need.  They help individuals and families with managing their mental health concerns and to provide a non-judgmental ear to those who could benefit from engaging in collaborative problem-solving. Crisis Line workers refer callers to appropriate community or professional resources and, if needed, intervene in life-threatening or emergency situations. The Crisis Line provides confidential telephone crisis intervention through active listening and support. Trained, caring volunteers listen to caller’s concerns, empowering the individual to meet their own needs and find their own solutions. If you or someone you know is in need of support, call the Crisis Line at 1-888-353-2273 (1-888-353-CARE).

This pandemic is continuing to challenge us, to bring about change and to offer both opportunity and distress. It has forced us to isolate and stay apart, but this has ultimately also highlighted the imperative, driving need for social connection. The pandemic and its impacts are not going away anytime soon.  They will require our best efforts to connect, to work collaboratively to create a new normal that makes our world a little more equitable.  And as we evolve, it will be so important to remember that while ‘we are in this together’, we really aren’t all sharing the same experience.  The best thing we can do is practice our empathy and understanding and remember Dr. Henry’s words to “be kind, be calm and be safe”.

 


Dorothee Birker is the Communications and Development Coordinator for KCR Community Resources, a non-profit organization that fosters diversity, resourcefulness and diversity by tailoring services to meet community, family and individual needs. As a multi-service agency, KCR provides programs and supports in four broad areas: Family and Adoption, Employment, Community and Immigrant Services.  KCR Community Resources is your connection to Central Okanagan services and opportunities. Contact us at 250-763-8008 or find out more at www.kcr.ca.


 

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