Strengthening Families Facilitators (L-R) Olivia Bevan, Kenda Reimer and Amy Reid 

There once was a boy who loved a girl that lived very far away. He had to travel for many hours to see her. While on these trips, he would dream of a better way to communicate with his love without all the travel. This boy was Eric Yuan, the creator of Zoom. It’s safe to say that many of us had no idea what Zoom was prior to the pandemic. Thanks to Eric and his great visionary dream, it is now an invaluable tool for many to stay connected with loved ones while not having to travel. It has also become a critical tool for the world to continue their work and education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the Strengthening Families Program Coordinator, Olivia Bevan had to suspend the program due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she knew this course that helps families communicate with each other would be more important than ever. With families forced to live in close quarters for an undetermined amount of time, and unable to participate in community programs, Olivia and the team had to think of how to deliver the program. Cue the magic of Zoom!

Olivia and her team of facilitators, Kenda and Amy got together and tackled the puzzle of how to adapt a long standing in person program to a virtual setting, while also delivering the same valuable program material.

Olivia recalls “We had to step back and took time to decide how we can still deliver the content while keeping it authentic to Strengthening Families.”

They had a new mandate to keep the staff and families engaged but separated while having to adhere to new Covid-19 parameters. They knew that if they were to keep the program going in a virtual setting, some aspects of the program would have to be cut.

“A big part of the in-person program was proving participating families with a meal, and childcare services, said Bevan “but this was not longer feasible.”

She went on to explain “We pushed the start time later in the evening, from 6pm to 7pm, and kids were not required to participate. This way, parents could prepare dinner and settle the children for the evening, before getting on Zoom. We found that having kids and parents online at the same time was stressful.”

On top of that, they also shortened the program length to ensure everyone stayed engaged. While some of these changes seemed major, they were confident that they could still deliver a robust program through Zoom, teaching families how to spend time together while strengthening the family bond and learning how to enjoy the time spent together.

Another benefit of delivering the program virtually was the opportunity to expand access to other communities in the corridor – prior to going online, the in-person program was not available to Pemberton families. The Pemberton program on Zoom now has room for six families and has been full for all 3 past sessions.

Online facilitators Amy and Kenda did worry about the families’ enthusiasm for getting online after many are working and having meetings online all day.

According to Olivia however, “Amy and Kenda are incredible! They enrich the program so much through their professional and personal experience. They use their humor to connect families and are amazing with their delivery.”

When they wanted to keep families engaged, Olivia made a point of delivering weekly gifts to the families’ homes personally. When asked why this seemed like an important thing to do, Bevan said “I do it to provide a personal connection and to show the families that they all matter. Even in a time when we are all sticking to our small circles, they all matter.”

Feedback on the new online format and greater accessibility to the Strengthening Families program has been very positive. Case in point, Pemberton resident Lisa Richardson and her family are recent alumna of the new online program that was offered in their community for the first time.

“I’m always seeking parenting literacy, and I am so glad that I found this course. In the past, I found myself asking ‘What is our number one role as parents?’ To protect, provide and teach our kids are answers that come to mind. Strengthening families made me realize ‘What if it’s actually to enjoy our kids on top of those things?’ And I thought ‘Great! Now show me how we do that.’”

Lisa and her family also really enjoyed Kenda and Amy’s humour and said that her family always made good use of the weekly gifts and lessons given to them. She also said that if the program weren’t via Zoom, she doesn’t know if she could have rallied her troops to participate in person every week.

“This was so great for us because there were no barriers to my ability to share and express my thoughts. It felt personal for our family, like it was just us and the screen.” Richardson added.

The current 6 week program started on May 11 and runs until June 15 with a second daytime course option added. The current program is full but planning for the next program Is underway.

To register for the next program and learn more visit: ssca.ca/strengtheningfamilies.