COVID-19 Community Profile – Royal Winnipeg Ballet

As a community research project, one of the ways we are contributing during the pandemic is by sharing some of the great work that our partners are doing to help families during this stressful time; both for the purposes of building awareness, and also to demonstrate the resiliency of Point Douglas. As you’ll read throughout these blog posts, it comes as no surprise to anyone that our community has responded in a selfless and dependable way — working hard to make sure that families are supported when they need it most.

 

We’ll be interviewing and profiling a different community organization, group or individual each week with the intent to share a different viewpoint than you’ll find in the mainstream media – a community perspective on the current situation surrounding COVID-19, and beyond.

 

Regular operations for non-profit organizations are being affected by the pandemic, requiring many to evaluate and adjust the way they contribute to their communities. One such example is the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB), a partner of Winnipeg Boldness, who contributed to the project’s Participation in the Arts prototype. The RWB’s mission of enriching the human experience by teaching, creating, and performing outstanding dance, has been highly limited by the public health measures implemented due to COVID-19.

 

“When you are dancing with someone that is sweating, and you are sweating, you are literally doing the opposite of physical distancing; you’re lifting and holding each other, there is no escaping that reality,” said David Warburton, Director of Touring And Business Development at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. “All of our performances rely on a couple thousand people getting together and being in [one] place. How do you do that safely?”

 

When the uncertainty of the pandemic hit the world, the RWB had to cancel local and international performances including a tour for Manitoba 150, as well suspending in-person dance training. After facing significant challenges including layoffs in the company and school, the RWB started thinking about the reopening process and what would be needed; one of the first things they identified was masks.

 

“We order a bunch of masks from different sources; we were not really satisfied about their quality [and] the cost was prohibitive,” mentioned Warburton. “How could other arts organizations be expected to have, purchase and deploy masks if it was going to become compulsory or recommended by government?”

 

Since the RWB would need potentially thousands of masks for staff, dancers, and students, they decided to do research, design and make their own.

 

“We thought we could make something quite substantial and better than the average mask, because we have some of the most talented wardrobe people in the country – that’s our speciality,” stated Warburton.

 

The outer layer of the mask is cotton, with the inner lining constructed of a different type of cotton – a little softer to help prevent your face from various irritations. In between those layers is an interfacing that helps by adding an additional layer of protection. The masks are not certified medical masks, but certainly offer some degree of protection since medical grade masks are not available.

 

With this high-quality final product, the RWB decided to increase the quantity of masks produced in order to donate a portion to the community.

 

“This project allowed us, and especially the wardrobe team, to do something productive and also something that hopefully is going to help out community,” remarked Warburton.

 

Instead of taking a transactional approach for the mask donations, the RWB decided to work with an existing community partner – The Winnipeg Boldness Project.

 

“[Winnipeg] Boldness is community-based, and [provides] community-driven solutions. That’s really important any time people are trying to work on very complex social issues,” reflected Warburton. “We wanted to find somebody that was already doing the work in a way that is deeply respectful of the community and helpful.”

 

The first delivery of masks to Winnipeg Boldness included 510 masks, which were then distributed by the project to community partners, including: Wahbung Abinoonjiiag, North Point Douglas Women’s Centre, Andrews Street Family Centre and Blue Thunderbird Family Care. A second delivery of masks is planned for early July and will include another 500 masks. From there, the RWB expects to receive feedback from the community organizations to assess further demand and plan for additional supply.

 

“Relatively speaking, we have a lot of privilege and funding that comes with being a large institution” states Warburton. “If it turns out that there is more demand, […] there is a strong possibility that we can carry this on for as long as we have the means to do it. If we think that next season and performances are going to be impacted, then this is another way to carry on some productive work and meet a part of our mission.”

 

Left to right: Diane Roussin (The Winnipeg Boldness Project), David Warburton (Royal Winnipeg Ballet), Miranda P. (Winnipeg Boldness Parent Guide Group Member & Wahbung Abinoonjiiag participant), and Dana Arabe-Riccio (Wahbung Abinoonjiiag) stand in front of Wahbung Abinoonjiiag’s building while wearing masks designed and constructed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s wardrobe department. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, in partnership with The Winnipeg Boldness Project, distributed over 500 masks to non-profit organizations in the North End, which will be used by employees and provided to families in need of protection during the pandemic.

 

Reopening plans

 

While Manitoba is already in phase three of a reopening plan, the RWB is still working in a limited capacity; either from home offices or in the studios with one dancer at a time. Only a few departments, including wardrobe, have staff working from the workshop.

 

Warburton shares that The Mask Project will carry on through the summer. This first batch of masks are adequate for adults, but are not necessarily well suited for youth or for dancers performing. The wardrobe team is researching and designing a mask for youth, as well as a mask for high-impact exercise – both of which are currently being prototyped and tested, and are expected to be finalized and released by August.

 

The RWB School also runs classes in the summer that is planned to begin on July 6, the implementation of which has become very challenging during a pandemic. Habitually, these camps are attended by a large number of international students, who obviously cannot travel now.

 

In order to remain accessible internationally, the RWB will be using Zoom to stream reduced-student, in-person classes with teachers providing live instruction, with a second teacher giving feedback and corrections to international students via the video feed. These adjustments have resulted in a number of class registrations much greater than originally anticipated.

 

“We are really having to adapt and troubleshoot dance training using a digital platform, but it also allowed us to make our program more accessible, affordable, and provide access to students that normally could not travel,” remarked Warburton, noting that these changes might be adopted as a long-term practice.

 

Other programming will also be offered throughout the summer, including some live shows at the drive-in movie theater to allow for physical distancing, so be sure to follow Royal Winnipeg Ballet on social media to stay up to date on their current schedule.

COVID-19 Community Profile – Granny’s House

As a community research project, one of the ways we are contributing during the pandemic is by sharing some of the great work that our partners are doing to help families during this stressful time; both for the purposes of building awareness, and also to demonstrate the resiliency of Point Douglas. As you’ll read throughout these blog posts, it comes as no surprise to anyone that our community has responded in a selfless and dependable way — working hard to make sure that families are supported when they need it most.

 

We’ll be interviewing and profiling a different community organization, group or individual each week with the intent to share a different viewpoint than you’ll find in the mainstream media – a community perspective on the current situation surrounding COVID-19, and beyond.

 

This week, we’re writing about Granny’s House – a new program based in the Point Douglas neighbourhood. Granny’s House provides a safe place for parents to bring their kids when they need temporary care at no cost, without the need for involvement from formal systems.

 

“If you are a foster parent often times you’re entitled to some respite, whereas families who don’t have their children in the child welfare system don’t always get respite,” explains Josie Hill, executive director for Blue Thunderbird Family Care – the managing organization for Granny’s House. “So this is a way for them to get a break to go do appointments for themselves, spend one-on-one [time] with one of their older kids, or take one child to the doctor instead of five children to the doctor… or just have a cup of coffee and breathe for five minutes.”

 

The idea for Granny’s House came about many decades ago; but due to the unique nature of the program, it had not received the necessary funding or infrastructure until now. Earlier this year, the Government of Manitoba stepped up to the plate to try something new. They partnered with Gwekaanimad—a collective of 5 non-profit groups from the North End, including Andrews Street Family Centre, Blue Thunderbird Family Care, Mount Carmel Clinic, Wahbung Abinoonjiiag, and The Winnipeg Boldness Project—to create a new type of support for the community.

 

Funded for a one-year pilot, Granny’s House will explore the potential for programs of this kind to impact families in a positive way by providing community-led support that is informal, accessible and non-judgemental.

 

“The beauty of having the [Gwekaanimad] partners is that they have the relationship [with the families],” states Hill. “This is really a community granny’s house. We can figure it out ourselves in the community, we can deal with it in more of a family, community way.”

 

Granny’s House was operational for about six weeks before it had to shut down due to COVID-19 cases ramping up across the city. This was certainly a hardship for families that had come to rely on the program for support, as social distancing created a situation where even informal support systems, such as family members and friends, were not available to help.

 

“Even their grandparents can’t come over and watch them,” remarked Hill. “If they do have any supports in the family, they can’t even come over and watch the kids. So, the kids are really missing out and the parents too.”

 

Staff at the house continued to keep in touch with the 15 families that had been referred to them before the shutdown and made sure to provide them with supplies they needed like groceries or arts and crafts supplies. Hill noted, however, that many of the families were simply in need of someone to talk to throughout the pandemic; to know that somebody is there who cares.

 

When the province began to reopen at the beginning of May, Hill knew it was time to reopen the house to community families but made sure to do so in a safe and controlled manner. To start, only one family was allowed to visit the Granny’s House each day, and staff made sure to screen the family before they arrived. Additional cleaning procedures were also implemented with all surfaces and toys in the house being sanitized between each visit. The program also began providing transportation to their families in order to avoid any need for public transit via buses or cabs.

 

“Transportation was a big issue for families, and with COVID-19 we don’t want them taking the bus or cabs,” explains Hill. “We rented a van and we’re picking up and dropping off. Parents are very happy to have a little time to themselves, and the kids are very happy to be back at Granny’s House.”

 

Hill says that as much as families often need support, it’s in times like these that the North End community and its families demonstrate their capacity for resilience and adaptability, despite having less resources available to them.

 

“People are resilient for sure. They’re strong – they want to take care of their kids, they just need some support like every parent,” remarks Hill. “I don’t think the parents in the inner city get enough credit. They just hunker down and take care of their kids and keep them safe and keep them in… The resilience in the community is just amazing.”

COVID-19 Community Profile – North Point Douglas Women’s Centre

As a community research project, one of the ways we are contributing during the pandemic is by sharing some of the great work that our partners are doing to help families during this stressful time; both for the purposes of building awareness, and also to demonstrate the resiliency of Point Douglas. As you’ll read throughout these blog posts, it comes as no surprise to anyone that our community has responded in a selfless and dependable way — working hard to make sure that families are supported when they need it most.

We’ll be interviewing and profiling a different community organization, group or individual each week with the intent to share a different viewpoint than you’ll find in the mainstream media – a community perspective on the current situation surrounding COVID-19, and beyond.

As one of Winnipeg’s oldest and most historical neighbourhoods, North Point Douglas has deep roots that are grounded in Indigenous history. Geographically situated on a peninsula of the Red River, it provided a ceremonial meeting place for First Nations peoples. Now, hundreds of years later, North Point Douglas is very different in appearance, but the character and spirit of the neighbourhood remain the same.

 

Named after the community in which it is located, North Point Douglas Women’s Centre (NPDWC) provides resources, programming and support to residents of the area. We were able to chat with the centre’s executive director, Tara Zajac, about some of the changes that NPDWC has experienced over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Since social distancing recommendations came into effect in Manitoba at the end of March, NPDWC has had to close its doors to the public but continues to provide services to the community. They have been focusing on the need for grocery and household supplies, and every Tuesday they purchase and distribute 100 hampers to community residents that include items such as food, hygiene products, diapers, baby formula, and safe sex supplies. Zajac says that they run out of hampers every week within 35 minutes.

 

“We’re trying to do what we can while still keeping people safe, and we decided that food was definitely the big thing,” explains Zajac. “We’re still trying to figure out how to get more food out to people, because as much as we’re like ‘wow 100 hampers,’ that just disappears so fast.”

 

They have put to good use the emergency funding received from United Way of Winnipeg and Winnipeg Foundation; but Zajac says that their ability to provide more supplies to the community is limited due to time, resources, and especially physical space. NPDWC operates out of a tiny, multi-coloured building about the size of a small house, so assembling and distributing 100 hampers each week in such a small location is no easy task.

 

“On Monday and Tuesday [our space] is packed full of hampers and there’s nowhere else to put anything even if we got more funding,” describes Zajac. “Phase two for us maybe it would be… handing out bagged lunches on other days. We are having a lot of people that when we hand out the hampers, they’re hungry there and then, and opening up the food or asking for sandwiches, because they haven’t eaten in however long.”

 

One characteristic of North Point Douglas that Zajac notes, is that its residents often prefer to remain within the boundaries of its 20-something blocks – an area less than half the size of the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus. While this contributes to a neighbourhood that is friendly and well-connected, it also creates a problem for access to essential supplies and resources during a pandemic.

 

“A lot of our community members, for whatever reason, don’t feel safe accessing resources out of our community,” explains Zajac. “So, people are really looking to us…. There’s no other real resources open in North Point Douglas, as well.”

 

Mama Bear Clan—NPDWC’s community foot patrol—has continued to head out three times per week, but has opted not to have its usual squad of volunteers help patrol the area while social distancing measures are in place. They have been handing out food, as well as checking on community members who live in tents along the riverbank. Zajac notes that there has been an increase in need for traditional Indigenous medicines like sage and sweet grass for use in smudging ceremonies; so Mama Bear Clan has been bringing a big smudge bowl with them for people to use as they walk the neighbourhood.

 

An issue that Zajac has noted while talking to community is that there seems to be a lot of confusion and misinformation around recommendations from public health officials regarding the pandemic. This has only increased since the provincial government began reopening services earlier in the month.

 

“We are finding more and more people seem to be confused with what’s going on – what they should be doing or shouldn’t be doing,” explains Zajac. “Most of the people that live in our community, [those] that we see, don’t have a smartphone or a computer or internet… or maybe even a home phone. So, they’re totally in the dark.”

 

North Point Douglas Women’s Centre understands the importance of continuing to serve as a hub for community members to remain connected throughout the pandemic. Residents have also been taking care of each other by reallocating resources to others in need, if they feel they can go without.

 

“When we do the hampers, we see people helping each other still,” notes Zajac. “People saying ‘you know what, I don’t need this pasta sauce. I already got a bunch – you take this…’ People give us something back and then we’re usually able to make another two to three hampers.”

 

As difficult as times may be, Zajac notes that the sense of community she knows and loves in North Point Douglas has remained unwavering, and perhaps has even been strengthened through the changes that have happened due to the pandemic.

 

“As tough as all of this is on all of us… I think because people are outside more, taking more care of their lawns or biking with their kids—that the community pride or the community relationship is actually growing,” explains Zajac. “People are getting to know each other better and trying to make the best of a really tough situation.”

 

COVID-19 Community Profile – North End Women’s Centre

As a community research project, one of the ways we are contributing during the pandemic is by sharing some of the great work that our partners are doing to help families during this stressful time; both for the purposes of building awareness, and also to demonstrate the resiliency of Point Douglas. As you’ll read throughout these blog posts, it comes as no surprise to anyone that our community has responded in a selfless and dependable way — working hard to make sure that families are supported when they need it most.

 

We’ll be interviewing and profiling a different community organization, group or individual each week with the intent to share a different viewpoint than you’ll find in the mainstream media – a community perspective on the current situation surrounding COVID-19, and beyond.

 

This week’s post highlights the dedicated work of another organization in Point Douglas, the North End Women’s Centre (NEWC).

 

For more than 35 years, the NEWC has facilitated opportunities to women-identified people, in healing, wellness and capacity building, through diverse community-centred approaches. This mission has become more crucial during the pandemic; in the midst of national and provincial public health advisories, the community has looked to their trusted community-based centres looking for information, resources, and support.

 

“They know us for being a place where they come when they need support, or help, or some safe place to gather,” explains Cynthia Drebot, executive director of the North End Women’s Centre.

 

When the pandemic hit, the centre had to make quick decisions on how to continue providing services and programming. During the first couple of weeks, NEWC adjusted their services while implementing hygiene and sanitizing practices. When social distancing guidelines ramped up, however, they had to reassess their physical space, adapt staffing schedules, and move to a crisis and basic-needs response, in order to remain accessible during regular day time hours.

 

The centre had to develop guidelines and protocols for staff, the women residing in the centre’s housing, and visitors from the community. Staff were rescheduled to rotating shifts, alternating between working from the office and working from home. As well, they were trained around protocols of physical distancing, and began using digital platforms to facilitate remote administrative work. Drebot explained that collaboration among agencies made the development of COVID-19 response guidelines much easier – guidelines which are becoming more long-lasting than expected.

 

While the centre was getting prepared, they noticed that many members of the community were not aware of the situation. Lack of access to technology also limited peoples’ access to basic information about the pandemic.

 

“We had people coming to the door saying, ‘why is everything closing? Why can’t we go anywhere?’” said Drebot. “So, there was a lot of opportunity to talk to the community about what COVID-19 [is] and to help them to come up with their own safety plans depending on their living environment.”

 

As time in quarantine has continued, the demand for food, supplies, and support has increased. An average of 100 people per day are helped at the NEWC, and any women or women-identified person that comes to the centre has access to lunch, food supplies, basic needs, hygiene items, diapers, formula, kids’ entertainment kits, and more. And even with The Up Shoppe—the Centre’s social enterprise second-hand retail store— temporarily closed, the community is able to access referrals, clothing, household items, harm-reduction supplies, and anything else that is available (toilet paper, hand sanitizer, masks, clothing, etc.).

 

NEWC also adapted their counselling and healing-related services to meet social distancing guidelines. Some counselling sessions were moved to over-the-phone or online appointments, with additional strategies implemented in cases of domestic violence situations, such as development of safety plans, safety words, etc.

 

Some of the Centre’s programs—such as Women Transforming—have taken advantage of the reach of social media, using tools such as videos to connect with women by delivering teachings online.

 

As well, Drebot appreciates the weekly check-ins, innumerable zoom meetings, phone calls, texts, and so much back and forth between different groups. She recognizes the key role that social media—especially their Facebook page—has played in allowing them to stay connected with the community.

 

Drebot notes that this shift in services has led to some women missing the sense of belonging and connection that comes from groups. With the reopening plan for Manitoba recently launched by the province, NEWC plans to assess future phases and move towards reopening some programming with smaller groups on site, while following physical distancing measures. Some Elders are also providing guidance on how to do ceremony in a safe and respectful way.

 

In the end, the goal is the same for NEWC: provide women and women-identified people with resources around basic needs and support them in their healing journey.

 

“The reality that women and women-identified people had before COVID-19: living in domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, being exploited, or other challenges, has not gone away during [the pandemic]. If their basic needs were not being met, they are feeling that strain more than anybody else.”

 

Overall, Drebot emphasizes the centre’s rapid response to the pandemic has been possible due to the impressive collaboration and resilience from the community, NEWC staff, and other local and regional organizations.

 

“Our staff have the ability to adapt, respond, find out the community’s needs, and make it happen. People continue to do what they do and adapt.” States Drebot. “The community is strong and resilient; [they] are figuring this out with or without support [and] keeping the community connection strong.”

 

Please note: a few days prior to posting this blog, on May 11, a fire was lit next to the North End Women Centre’s social enterprise, the Up Shoppe, and spread to their building. Thankfully no one was injured, but their building and the store’s interior and inventory suffered considerable damage, and has led to the shop being forced to delay their reopening to the public.

 

If you would like to support NEWC financially during this tough time, please visit this link to make a donation: https://www.canadahelps.org/…/char…/north-end-womens-centre/

COVID-19 Community Profile – Wahbung Abinoonjiiag

As a community research project, one of the ways we are contributing during the pandemic is by sharing some of the great work that our partners are doing to help families during this stressful time; both for the purposes of building awareness, and also to demonstrate the resiliency of Point Douglas. As you’ll read throughout these blog posts, it comes as no surprise to anyone that our community has responded in a selfless and dependable way — working hard to make sure that families are supported when they need it most.

 

We’ll be interviewing and profiling a different community organization, group or individual each week with the intent to share a different viewpoint than you’ll find in the mainstream media – a community perspective on the current situation surrounding COVID-19, and beyond.

 

This week, we’re sharing some of the great work happening at Wahbung Abinoonjiiag – an organization that takes a child-centred approach to family violence prevention. Wahbung recognizes that services geared towards women and their children—especially young children—who have witnessed or experienced domestic violence, are critical when preventing or limiting the ripple effect of the cycle of violence and intergenerational trauma on Indigenous families.

 

When public health officials began advising the public to social distance and stay home, many of the women and children involved with Wahbung were faced with other unsafe situations beyond the virus.

 

“We know that violence thrives in silence,” says Dana Riccio-Arabe, executive director at Wahbung Abinoonjiiag. “Now with [social] isolation and the inability to attend safe spaces, we’re seeing an influx of calls regarding domestic violence.”

 

Wahbung staff are currently fielding approximately 30 to 50 calls per day from participants needing support, with 10 or more of those calls being serious crisis calls from participants needing immediate or urgent support. When working with communities where internet connections and phone lines are often a luxury rather than a given, Riccio-Arabe notes the importance of doing regular wellbeing checks to ensure that families are safe and healthy.

 

“We’re driving by homes. We’re doing door drops. We’re really opening up a space where folks can connect with us in hopefully whatever way that we can and that they can,” she explains.

 

Wahbung Abinoonjiiag’s top priority has been to maintain a strong presence in the community to ensure that participants feel connected and stay healthy, even while not being able to attend programs. The staff team has been delivering 70 to 75 hampers per week to ensure that families have essential supplies such as food and diapers, as well as things to help with mental and spiritual health, such as positive messages and quotes, fun activities, and even traditional medicines like sage and sweet grass.

 

“The families receive positive messages from us… that we miss them and ‘keep smiling’ and things like that, just to send positive vibes to everybody,” says Riccio-Arabe. “The big thing right now that we’re seeing is that folks really miss that interaction. I think we all feel that.”

 

What Riccio-Arabe is referring to is the genuine and caring interaction between staff and participants at Wahbung, a centre that maintains an atmosphere akin to visiting a family member’s home – a comfortable and safe place that’s always there to rely on. Now with staff primarily working from home and the centre closed to the public, the team has looked to social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to help provide a new way of interacting with clients.

 

“We created an online… I don’t know if I would call it a challenge, but just something to do each day for 30 days to keep folks interacting,” describes Riccio-Arabe. “Listen to your favourite song, turn it as loud as you can and dance,… scavenger hunts for kids, things like that.”

 

Riccio-Arabe says it comes as no surprise that organizations have pulled together and adapted so well during this difficult time. In the North End, it’s a common thing for non-profit agencies to communicate and collaborate in order to be most effective, and emergency response during the pandemic has been no exception.

 

“I’m proud of the North End,” states Riccio-Arabe. “There’s a lot of communication happening within community organizations. That always speaks to how the North End works and operates. It’s community-based organizations that are really stepping up and working in a good way.”

 

Wahbung Abinoonjiiag has also been working with the Family Violence Consortium of Manitoba—a collective of over 30 organizations from across the province who provide support to those experiencing family violence—to share information and learn from one another.

 

Regardless of the challenges at hand, Riccio-Arabe and staff remain steadfast in their dedication to the community and have received lots of positive comments and feedback from their participants. They are also very thankful for all the other organizations in the area that have stepped up during this time and are working hard to make sure families are supported.

 

“Everybody knows that community doesn’t stop,” states Riccio-Arabe. “We’re here for them and that’s what’s important… knowing that folks aren’t alone and that there’s always going to be somebody here if anybody needs.”

 

Learn more about Wahbung Abinoonjiiag by visiting their website or their Facebook page.