As COVID-19 cases spread to Calgary in early March, the Women’s Centre was wrapping up International Women’s Day celebrations. We did not realize that event would be the last, large community gathering in our space for several months.
When shutdown orders were issued, the Centre’s staff and volunteers were quick to close down the physical building, and adapt some of our services to be available remotely. These services included, grocery gift cards by mail, social connection calls, referrals, and taxes and legal clinics over the phone.
Our staff team split into two and rotated between shifts from home and shifts in the space. This was to ensure that if there were positive cases in one group then we could still staff the Centre and provide some services. We ordered plexiglass barriers and re-arranged desks to ensure adequate social distancing measures and COVID safety protocols. Personal protective equipment and cleaning and sanitizing supplies were donated to the Centre, or purchased, to ensure our staff and volunteers were maintaining safe practices while in the office. Our doors stayed closed to the public until June 1st when we re-opened for women to visit us by appointment.
While we worked to adapt our Get Assistance program, the Connect with Others and Administration teams consulted with a contractor to shift our events and workshops online. By mid-April we were facilitating the online launch of our Girls Lead Toolkit, and collaborating with our Artists in Residence to offer women at home the opportunity to connect and participate online. This momentum continued from May through August. We offered volunteer training, Reconciliation events and workshops, Environmental Issues Discussions and even our Annual General Meeting online. Some programs, such as Practice English, Yoga and Zumba preferred the format and have stayed online. As restrictions were relaxed in the summer, we began to offer women and girls the choice of online or in person (piloted through our Girls Program summer camps), and in September ran our Orange Shirt Day event as a combination event of in person and remote. We plan to continue to offer women and girls the option to connect remotely or in person for some events and workshops, and are prepared to move online again if necessary.
In September, we extended the hours of opening for appointments to include three evenings a week. Women answer COVID screening questions over the phone when booking, and again when they arrive for their appointments. We have also been able to accommodate drop-in appointments (subject to screening) and are now seeing more women return to the space.
Throughout the shutdown we heard from women, girls and volunteers that they all missed the ability to come to the Centre to connect. Our peer support volunteers still regularly call almost 100 women a week for social connections and to hear how women are doing. We have put more focus into community development and are looking for and implementing creative ways for women to safely connect in the space, or to still feel they are a part of the Centre remotely. In October we launched our Together Again workshop series for women to visit and take part in an activity and or discussion to build community. We are building more events, workshops and opportunities for women and girls to connect in our space as we move forward into the ‘new normal’.
Our COVID-19 response reflects the resiliency of our community of women and girls, volunteers, staff, donors and funders. We thank you all for your support and trust in the Women’s Centre.
- Updated October 2020