This series from the Ontario Mental Health and Addictions Virtual Care Collaborative highlights projects or initiatives across Ontario that have helped to ensure nobody is left behind in the rapid shift to virtual mental health and addictions care in response to COVID-19. Learn more about "Success Stories in Action".
Interview with Alvis Choi
Program Coordinator at Yet Keen Seniors’ Day Centre, a program of Somerset West Community Health Centre in Ottawa
What was the problem or challenge that your project or initiative responded to?
Yet Keen Seniors' Day Centre is a drop-in centre that opens 4 days a week. We mainly serve Chinese-speaking seniors in the Greater Ottawa Region. Before the pandemic, our seniors relied on the daily in-person activities and social opportunities at the centre to stay active and engaged. The challenge that we responded to when COVID hit was the fact that most of these seniors (including volunteers who facilitated classes) did not have the digital literacy or resources to use technology to access online services or programs. A lot of the members didn't have the equipment they needed and/or WiFi at home to participate online. In addition, a language barrier was also an issue given that most of our members are Chinese speaking and digital use typically requires some understanding of English.
How did your project or initiative work to reduce the digital divide?
We were fortunate that one of our senior volunteers had experience working with digital platforms and he offered to teach Tai Chi on Zoom back in May 2020. From there, we coached seniors who have a smartphone or tablet one-on-one to use their device to join the class.
We started with a small group, and then popularized digital participation amongst our members in the following months. We began running computer classes in Cantonese and Mandarin, and secured resources working with Connected Canadians and our colleagues at Somerset West Community Health Centre to run a tablet loan program to address digital equity issues. So far, over 80 of our seniors have joined programs online and many are confidently using digital devices in the safety of their home on a daily basis. Most of the coaching done in this past year was carried out on the phone and we have developed assessment methods and pedagogy that is effective and empowering for Chinese speaking seniors. We also involved caregivers who live with the seniors to encourage sustainable support. For everyone involved, it is emotional work as much as it is technical support. We work at the seniors' own pace, and new interest in virtual participation continues to develop amongst the seniors as the pandemic goes on.
If you were to scale up your project or initiative to other communities across the province, what barriers would you need to overcome and what resources or processes would you need to have in place?
A key component that led to the success of the program's digital operation during the pandemic is the time, patience, sensitivity and energy of each staff on the team. In order to scale up the initiative to other communities across the province, we would need to identify and hire digital coaches who can offer language-specific and culturally-appropriate support, as well as program facilitators who can run language-specific and culturally-appropriate programs. Aside from tangible resources to secure tablets and data plans, we would want to ensure that frontline workers who possess the skills to work with the racialized immigrant seniors population are adequately recognized and supported. Resources for racialized communities are scarce due to systemic oppression and they too need access to appropriate care and opportunities to thrive during this challenging time and beyond. Yet Keen Seniors' Day Centre has always been run by people in the community for the community and it is an example of how community building and empowerment can bring connections and success. We need to trust that marginalized communities know what they need best and offer ample resources for their work.