Modern Support in Modern Times

The Autism Society of Edmonton Area gets a literal upgrade and a boost to support its community technologically during COVID-19

“When the decision was made to close, we struggled to understand how the support could continue while the world was pivoting,” said Erin Bilawchuk, Autism Society of Edmonton Area (ASEA) representative. “The rest of society moved virtually to Zoom and video conferencing, but our old tower computers with big-box monitors left us behind – unable to communicate or offer support.”

This is when they reached out to Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) and the Government of Canada’s $350-million Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF).

“Knowing so many struggled to connect was a burden on our team,” Bilawchuk said. “Their love for their work is evident. They were driven to overcome obstacles to check in on individuals, families and our friends. Communication within our community isn’t done only with words, but facial expressions on their faces and yours.”

On June 11, ECF funded the ASEA $18,692 through the ECSF. This money went toward technology purchases and immediately helped the ASEA’s small but mighty team and the 7,000-plus members, the 2,500 individuals they connect with each year, and those who love them.

“Like many non-profits, Autism Society suddenly found that their IT systems – which were sufficient a few weeks earlier – suddenly didn’t meet their needs,” Craig Stumpf-Allen, ECF’s Director of Grants and Community Engagement said. “To keep their work going, they needed to upgrade quickly.”

News of the grant was a big deal for the staff at ASEA.

“The announcement of emergency funding resources meant that we could enhance the support we could offer to the people we work for,” Bilawchuk said. “The quick response of the Emergency Community Support Fund to our request to upgrade our technology meant we could reach out and connect to our piece of the world first, but it also enabled us to go farther. We contacted our members and checked in so we could physically see how they were doing. Young and old, our members could show the projects they were working on, tour us around their living space – offering us a glimpse of their world not just during COVID but every day.”

The federal government’s support fund aims to help charities and non-profit organizations adapt and increase frontline services for vulnerable populations during COVID-19. Along with the Canadian Red Cross, Community Foundations of Canada and United Way Centraide Canada, their collaboration is allowing the ECSF to support those who need it most right now.

“The support groups resumed reasonably quickly after the funding was confirmed and computers were purchased – with more attendees connecting each session,”  Bilawchuk added. “The funding grant also allowed us to prepare that if the world goes into lockdown again, we will be ready and be able to respond quicker. Each staff person has a laptop with all the tools they need to be as successful in reaching the community at home as they do in the office.”

Learn more about the Emergency Community Support Fund.