The world is a different place, but we’re in this together. As I write this (on March 20th) the world has already changed exponentially. I expect it to have changed even more by the time you read this. So perhaps this is better written and read as an historical record.
One week ago, OSCA was informed by the City of Ottawa that all recreation centres would be closed until at least April 5th. In the event of such a possibility, the Executive Committee had met twice that week to determine next steps within an ever changing, almost dizzyingly so, horizon.
We had a loose plan in place and spent the next few days activating that plan.
In mid-March I wrote two articles for publication on what you can do, and what we’re doing; staff wrote an update on COVID-19 and our closure procedures. We then launched a portal on our website dedicated to COVID-19 publishing this information, as well as resources from Ottawa Public Health (OPH) (oldottawasouth.ca/covid-news-and-resources). We had agreed early on not to overwhelm our various platforms. Instead, we focussed on informing our community using reputable governmental sources and to select what was relevant to Old Ottawa South.
Full time staff then began to work from home and talk on a videoconference program. That the program was really great proved to be a bonus. I didn’t grow up chatting on cell phones and using FaceTime. In fact, the phone was in my family kitchen as a teenager, and I stretched that cord as far as I could from my busy kitchen to half-way up the stairs to whisper all my secret goings-on (or simply secrets) with my friends. So, learning on my own how to use a videoconferencing platform was like teaching my dad to use a VCR. I’ll spare you that story. It’s old.
But we did it; within one week of working from home, staff held three meetings, managers met once, the Executive met once and I had an informal communications meeting with our Communications Committee Chair and the Website Editor to help myself and staff get on track.
The first time I invited staff into my living room on my computer felt odd at best, I think I understand my parent’s reticence to FaceTime with me today all the way from Vancouver, yet, once I saw Sarah, Darcy and Luke’s faces (Katherine and Matt can only use voice/phone) my heart felt at ease and I became reassured that the team was secure; we could still work as a team, with full facial expressions such as snickers and eye rolls. An OSCA team meeting would not be complete without someone goofing around with their name during videoconferencing (we had a fake Genghis Khan and Oprah Winfrey on video call at one point), changing their background to a sandy beach with waves or grassy fields, to eye rolling and silly jokes. We’re a good team, our goofiness helps us work well together, it feeds our creativity and thankfully that has not been lost working virtually.
Once we realized we could still work together as we always had, we got to the hard work ahead.
We now have a curated COVID-19 portal on our website. Please check it regularly, it will be OSCA’s key location for updates and important information. We’ll still post fun things and ideas on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. I’m trying to convince staff to create a YouTube channel and consider TikTok (insert eye roll here from some staff). But for now, we’ll always post relevant updates to our website.
We’re also curating the content on the site very carefully. We won’t be posting theories or ideas not yet backed up, numbers and initiatives won’t be posted unless they come from a vetted source, meaning Ottawa Public Health, The City of Ottawa, Councillor Shawn Menard’s office or the Provincial or Federal Government.
We have also begun to consider how to engage those of you who are cooped up. You’ll see ideas from us, such as the boredom busters, educational pieces for kids at home, and…
We love Old Ottawa South Businesses.
Many businesses closed early to protect residents and their own staff, others rallied to serve seniors with special shopping hours, still others launched free deliveries to help those who need it most. For example Cedar’s delivers to those in quarantine and seniors.
In honour of our businesses we’ve posted a list on our COVID-19 portal that outlines what our businesses are doing during this difficult time and we’ll update it regularly. You can still do a lot of shopping online too, the Clothes Secret for example is still open, just virtually.
Please support our local businesses wherever possible. We’re in this together.
Finally, you can expect to see some programming videos up (Katherine and Darcy are a little nervous to go live, but we’re working on them and they’ve agreed to record some programs) we will have story time, arts and crafts activities, the OOS Book Club will go online and even the OOS jam sessions will launch online using our video conferencing program. We’re also reaching out to our instructors; they’ll tag us on their online posts, and we’ve asked them to consider creating videos of their programs that we can post for those who’ve missed the last 1 or 2 classes of the winter session. And we’re looking at online programming options moving forward. We even hope to move our Spring Art Show online.
On the note of staff, we’re a small family, we care deeply about our staff. They are our front line and their physical and mental health comes first and foremost. Since a state of emergency was declared in Ontario at least until March 31st by the Ontario Government, we decided to pay all staff and instructors until that date. We made the difficult decision to lay off part time staff after that period should the centre not open. We will not be seeking fees for programs until we re-open. But with only 1-2 classes left in the winter session, and in order to pay staff, we have decided not to issue refunds unless specifically requested as per our regular policy.
Full time staff continue to work from home.
What about the community? Seniors? Able bodied volunteers who are sitting at home going stir crazy? We’re moved by the number of you who reached out asking to help. We’re making headway on a plan.
What we discovered when we first reached out, was that everyone we spoke to was okay for now. Almost everyone had been checking in with others, or had a neighbour check in on them. Well done OOS! That’s what community is all about.
We’ll be continuing with our phone calls and outreach.
The Councillor’s office is also working diligently to ensure community and individual needs are not lost during this difficult time. Please check our website, social media, local municipal offices and Ottawa Public Health for more and for updates. What I’ve learned during all of this? Our Executive Committee and Board are strong and something to be proud of, supportive of front-line staff and proactive, and always available. Furthermore, humanity is more alive than ever, especially in Old Ottawa South and beyond. And that’s heartening. Be well.
Christy's Corner was originally published in the April 2020 edition of the OSCAR.