Bringing the World to Edmonton

Chinatown Multi-level Care Foundation uses iPads to connect isolated seniors with families, thanks to a grant from Edmonton Community Foundation.

Wai-Fong Chow used to see her family weekly at the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre. Now, the only way she can connect with them is through a screen.

Seniors experienced isolation harder than most when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Care homes banned visitors, limited staff, and put several restrictions on gatherings.

“My mom used to see us weekly and now there is a big gap there because we are not able to visit her,” said Paul Cheung, Chow’s son and Vice-Chair of the Edmonton Seniors Council. “The way we interact is so different now. It’s kind of cold in a sense.”

The 95 residents at the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre saw abrupt changes. In a span of 24 hours, visitors at the care centre went from being allowed entry to being banned. The care centre provides long-term care services under the continuing care program operated by Alberta Health Services, as well as supportive living.

“People in a very short period of time, whether they’re residents, families, or even staff, went from one typical type of day to something nobody expected,” said Truman Severson, Executive Director at Chinatown Multi-Level Care Foundation.

The Chinatown Multi-Level Care Foundation started the ‘Bring the World’ project’ with a $5,000 grant from Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF). The goal was to virtually connect seniors with their families across the world.

“One visit that was quite eye-opening involved a family that was in New York, Hong Kong, Vancouver, and Edmonton. You could see that the resident was as engaged in the conversation as if that visit was occurring in person,” said Severson. “The satisfaction that they had from being able to see faces and expressions made it a very meaningful visit.”

The care centre purchased technology, including two iPads, for the residents to use. The centre hopes to incorporate the technology into its recreational programming.

“Maintaining connection to family during a period of isolation is crucial for seniors’ quality of life,” Craig Stumpf-Allen, ECF’s Director of Grants and Community Engagement says. “Our COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund was a great fit to help the residents of the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre.”

ECF seeded the COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund (RRF) on March 25 with $500,000 of its discretionary dollars. Since then, the RRF has exceeded a million dollars to allocate to Edmonton’s charitable organizations, thanks to contributions from donors and the wider community.

“We were really impressed with how quickly the Edmonton Community Foundation was able to pivot in terms of its programs and seeing where resources would be needed. We can’t say ‘thank you’ enough,”  Severson said.

FaceTime may not replace family time, but the ‘Bring the World’ project is the next-best thing for Chow and other seniors.

“My mom was very happy, and I was very happy,” Cheung said. “The digital technology really brings people together in an odd way, but it is a fun experience for my mom as well as for everybody else.”