Finding Belonging in a Pandemic

Grant from Edmonton Community Foundation enables AdaptAbilities to offer services online

In the three years that Naomi Hartling has been using AdaptAbilities, its services have proven invaluable. The non-profit works with individuals with special needs, helping them build essential life skills, gain confidence, and find a sense of belonging in the world, with assistance from support workers. It helped Hartling access a post-secondary program at NorQuest College, and find both volunteer work and a part-time job.

But when the pandemic was declared, AdaptAbilities’ services — most of which happen in-person — became much more difficult to access.

“My daughter loves getting out,” Naomi’s mother Lisa Hartling explains. “She loves interacting with people. That was a real challenge for her, to not be able to go out into the community.”

The Hartlings are one of 200 families that use AdaptAbilities’ programming each year. The pandemic has had serious consequences for the organization: They initially had to lay off 70 percent of their staff, said Rich Horning, AdaptAbilities’ director of development and communications.

“We had to close our out-of-school care program,” he said. “We also closed our weekend respite program. That shut two programs down completely. Of our three respite centres, two of them had to close.”

They were able to pivot, however, when  Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) provided $57,643 through the Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF). Together, the Canadian Red Cross, Community Foundations of Canada and United Way Centraide Canada are collaborating with the Government of Canada to flow ECSF support to those who need it most right now.

“A trend we are seeing is that many organizations, like Adaptabilities, are taking programming online in response to the pandemic,” Craig Stumpf-Allen, ECF’s Director of Grants and Community Engagement said. “Online programming can never fully replace in person connections, but organizations are learning about new ways of serving their communities, which will likely lead to more options in the future.”

AdaptAbilities used the funding to shift its Community Connect program online. Community Connect is a day program for adults, offering meaningful skill-building activities and a social environment for its participants in two-hour slots, as well as providing a respite break for families.

The ECSF has allowed AdaptAbilities to hire an online producer to run the program, as well as an online curriculum for helping its participants develop high-level life skills. The funding also helped pay for any materials necessary for the programming — which gets delivered to participants weekly — and to support a bursary program, to ensure AdaptAbilities’ programming remains accessible to families in these difficult times.

The shift to online programming has been positively received by the families that use it, Horning notes. And for Naomi, it’s helped her maintain a sense of community.

“That was super important for her,” Lisa Hartling said. “To keep connecting with people and be safe. And just from a mental health perspective, and confidence -building, it’s really, really important.”

Learn more about ECF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic here.