Even though the Firehall isn’t open (and won’t be until at least June 30th), we’ve been busy trying to learn and adapt to our new reality. With our new work environment forcing us to learn how to use new technologies, we discovered that, “Hey, we could probably use these tools for programming!” And so OSCA’s programming staff embarked on a new adventure: virtual programming. We (Sarah Cybulski, Darcy Middaugh, and Katherine Boisvert) thought we’d share some of the fun and some of the challenges we’ve faced since starting this new version of programming.
Seeing Familiar Happy Faces - by Sarah Cybulski
I like to think of myself as a pretty adaptable and flexible activity programmer. Over the past decade, I’ve planned and implemented programs for preschoolers, school-aged children, youth, adults, seniors, people with physical and intellectual disabilities, and everything in between. I’ve had to learn how to be creative and how to adapt programs for people’s varying abilities. This has always been an enjoyable challenge because at the end of the day, I’m finding ways to plan things so people can have fun and laugh and feel joy. In a nutshell, that’s what we as programmers do, we try to create joyful experiences for the community.
As you can imagine, the COVID-19 pandemic caused yet another situation in which the team and I have had to adapt how we offer programs. Admittedly, I’m not sure I met this challenge with enthusiasm initially. With the ever-growing number of cases, the uncertainty of knowing when our lives would be back to some semblance of normalcy, and the general feelings of impending doom, it was hard to be inspired. That all started to change when the team and I started brainstorming. As we discussed different options, I started to feel more excitement towards the possibility of offering virtual programming.
One of the first ideas we had was to make funny videos for our social media streams. We thought these might be a good idea because people need to laugh and feel like they can engage with others. I found myself getting excited about each video I was about to make. I dressed up in silly outfits, started playing my guitar again, and laughed at myself.
After a few videos, we decided to start trying to use the Zoom platform to do some activities with our Breakfast Club and After-Four children. We sent out an invite thinking we wouldn’t have a lot of participation. We were wrong. Over twenty of our families logged on. One by one, we were seeing the little faces of the children we normally see every day. From there, we started running a preschool program. Hearing the little ones and their families sing along with Darcy and Katherine for the first time in weeks was truly heartwarming.
I think I can speak for all of us when I say that these initial meetings were emotional, but in a good way: we were excited and happy to see the faces we hadn’t seen in a while. It also reminded us of why we do what we do.
Given that these programs have been successful, and we’ve received some really supportive comments from families, we decided to create a 2020 Virtual Spring Guide where we are expanding what we’re offering to families. We also contacted our instructors to see if they were interested in running some virtual programs. At the time I’m writing this article, the guide is well on its way. By the time this article comes out, the guide will be available and programs will have started.
We can’t wait to see how people respond to these new, virtual programs. We hope to see many of our clients and their families. I know for myself, I took for granted the opportunity I get each day to interact with people of all ages. I miss seeing our Firehall family and can’t wait until we get through this together.
Sarah Cybulski is OSCA's Program Director.
This article was originally published in the May-June 2020 edition of the OSCAR.