October 2020 has been proclaimed Community Inclusion Month in Powell River by mayor Dave Formosa, highlighting the depth of community involvement by inclusion Powell River (iPR), which has been in existence since 1954.
Lilla Tipton, the organization’s chief executive officer, said she appreciated the proclamation by the city, and that inclusion month is a BC-wide declaration.
“It’s important in our community to be part of that larger event,” said Tipton. “With COVID-19, it has reminded us how important it is for people to be included and active, and what some of the challenges are around that.
“Many of the people we serve are more socially vulnerable than others in our community and so the pandemic has amplified that isolation people experience. It has been an interesting time for us to examine that and really understand how to better support people.”
Technology is now playing a major role in supporting everyone to be less isolated, said Tipton. Making sure people iPR serves have the capacity to use the technology, or access to the technology, has been a lot of the effort the organization has had to put in place since the onset of COVID-19, she added.
“We put a lot of energy into supporting people in being less isolated through technology in the last six or seven months,” said Tipton.
In non-pandemic times, iPR has been a hands-on organization, so it has been a big adjustment to meet the requirements of this pandemic time.
“We had to purchase a lot of new technology because our technology wasn’t adequate to meet the new needs,” said Tipton.
iPR serves a significant number of people in the community, including about 350 children and their families. About 120 adults with intellectual challenges are being assisted and iPR is up to 190 in the seniors better at home program, which is primarily served by volunteers. Tipton said that program has been growing by leaps and bounds because of the needs of seniors during COVID-19.
Current programming for seniors includes assistance such as gift certificates for food, and volunteers have spent significant time with seniors to prevent loneliness, and to provide transportation for activities such as medical appointments. Most of that is having to be done online now, said Tipton, but there still are housekeepers who go in to help people who need that support.
For the other groups, Tipton said one-to-one support is provided where needed, but a lot of group work is being done through Zoom teleconferences.
“One of the ones that is successful and people like better than they did in person is the cook club,” said Tipton. “The staff demonstrates cooking online. They drop off the ingredients for the dinner before the meeting and they all cook together online. Each person gets to cook in their own kitchen. They really like that new method of doing it.”
Other programs, such as yoga, drumming and choir are also all possible to do through Zoom, where the employment services program has also been hosting workshops.
“We have all accepted that this is how we are having to operate so we might just as well get on with it, finding new ways to do things,” said Tipton. “We have to be innovative in our approaches.”
Tipton said iPR received support from the community fund for COVID-19 and it has helped to provide technology for some people.
Usually during inclusion month, iPR has some special activities planned, but COVID-19 has downplayed that.
The provincial focus for the month is inclusive housing, which brings up the bigger conversation about affordable housing. Tipton said this region is carrying out a housing needs assessment and inclusion is part of that study.
The organization is also part of housing initiatives, being involved in the affordable housing project being constructed on Ontario Avenue, with more than 40 units that will be available to help lower income people find a residence.
“We are looking at new ways to see that people we serve have adequate housing and are included in the community,” said Tipton. “The new developments can include space for people with disabilities at more affordable cost.
“We know the cost of housing is becoming more of a barrier to people with intellectual disabilities who we serve and to some seniors whose income is limited to old age pension and guaranteed income. It’s a really critical and important aspect of the work we do.”
Another important aspect is employment. September was employment disability month and iPR celebrated employers who are employing people with disabilities.
“The small business people in Powell River have been amazing in terms of what they have been able to do,” said Tipton. “COVID-19 has made it challenging to be in business so we want them to know how grateful we are.”
Tipton said it’s important to bring recognition to iPR during October. She said people can find out more about the organization at inclusionpr.ca.
“It’s a good place for people to go,” said Tipton, “and see the diverse work that we do.”