What happens when you start a substantial project in your community, spend months lining up resources, venues, and partnerships, and suddenly everything comes to a crashing halt? “You discover the art of the pivot,” says Cari Taylor, Regional Mentor – South Vancouver Island. “That is exactly what the Victoria community response network, or VCRN, did last year when COVID-19 safety measures derailed plans to implement the Keeping Safe in Our Communities program.”
“We had to shift our whole approach into something entirely different,” says Anna Hudson, coordinator for both the Victoria and Saanich Peninsula CRNs.
Let’s have a look at what happened.
Building on Previous Success and Existing Relationships
The origins of the Keeping Safe in Our Communities program stem from Sidney, BC back in 2018 and was comprised of a series of public workshops led by local experts on topics like income tax, insurance, safe driving, frauds and scams, hoarding, food security… knowledge that equips community members with the tools to live safely and securely.
The Victoria CRN had been working with the Saanich Peninsula CRN to host these workshops.
“The initial series was really well received by the Saanich Peninsula community and volunteers had a lot of fun,” says Anna. “We also learned the workshops acted as a gateway to having safe conversations about exploitation and identifying abuse and neglect warning signs before anything escalated.”
These early successes informed the decision to expand the project to four larger, more diverse Victoria neighbourhoods.
Fast forward to 2019. With grant approval in place, a plan was written, and committee members were meeting weekly to divide up responsibilities. Venues were secured, speakers were booked, volunteers recruited, and posters and pamphlets were slated for printing to promote the workshops, which were scheduled to launch in the Fall of 2020. Everyone was excited.
Then, pandemic lockdowns changed everyone’s plans.
The Pandemic and the Pivot
“All of our projects, including Keeping Safe stopped,” Anna says. “It felt crushing and so sudden. Six months of planning, all the excitement…it disappeared. For those of us in community
development, the best part of the work is being in the community, and now, it wasn’t safe to do it. Personally, I was feeling quite defeated. What do we do now? What can we do?”
“Although we had let go of our original plan, we still had our ideas, our funding, our committees, our speakers, and our volunteers,” Anna explains. “With many older adults and seniors insecure about using technology, we shifted our in-person events to a print format.”
They pivoted! Keeping Safe in Our Communities became a print toolkit for 2020. Speakers sent their content to the CRN, which repurposed it into information sheets. Funding reserved for deposits on venues and catering was redirected to cover the costs of printing and the purchase of promotional materials.
“The toolkit was something someone could open up in their home and search for information as a way to keep safe,” says Anna. “Once we took the time to figure out a different way, we regained our excitement and momentum.”
The toolkit contained information on:
- The types of adult abuse and neglect plus the resources to consult if you spot the signs of abuse and neglect
- The role of a CRN in responding to adult abuse and neglect in the community.
- Mental health resources
- Health and safety resources
- Food security
- How to keep your home safe
- Hoarding information
- Fraud prevention
- Traveling safely using transit
- Driving safely
A core team of seven volunteers initially assembled the hundreds of packages needed. “We booked space at a community centre in Sidney to make the toolkits and organize them for distribution,” Anna explains. “Everyone wore masks, and there was plenty of physical distancing. It was a chance for people to finally do some safe in-person socializing.
Many of the volunteers also packaged toolkits at home to ensure deadlines were met. “We even had the grandkids of our previous regional mentor helping…so it also became a bit of an intergenerational exercise!” says Anna.
Once completed and packed, the toolkits went through a “quarantining period” before they were sent to volunteer agencies for distribution. “We wanted to make sure that in sending out the toolkits, we were not passing on COVID, “emphasizes Anna.
The toolkits were distributed in November 2020 in conjunction with BC Crime Prevention Week. Fifteen volunteer drivers from bc211 added the packages to their weekly meal deliveries, circulating 2,000 toolkits throughout Victoria.
“We had quite a myriad of volunteers and agencies that participated,” says Anna. “The new plan definitely forced us to be creative, and it was a wonderful opportunity to strengthen community connections. I am grateful to everyone who made this program work out as beautifully as it did.”
Lessons and Learnings for Your CRN or Team
- As with any major change to a program or a project, challenges are to be expected. Here are just some tips and lessons learned that may help you with your project, courtesy of CRN Coordinator Anna Hudson: Link your projects and activities: “Build on previous successes. The Keeping Safe in Our Communities program was so successful because we had reached out to agencies in a previous grant project called Strengthening Connections – connecting the local CRN to community agencies. We tapped into those existing networks, which then led to introductions to new people and agencies to work with.”
- Make contact with as many agencies as possible: “There would have been a lot more leg work if we didn’t have our agencies to lean on for resources. Great connections are key. We are very proactive with maintaining good relationships with people and agencies we interact with the most.”
- Check in with your team: “Everything got harder in the pandemic, especially with our team being geographically dispersed. It became really important for us to check-in personally about how we were individually coping and what each person was up to. This helped each of us get to know one another and form deeper
relationships. We plan on continuing to meet virtually every month.”
- Build a buffer into your project planning should anything not go according to plan: “See above! There were several things that we could control. There were also some things we couldn’t control. The larger the project, the more likely something will go wrong and assume that it will happen!”
- Check and double-check your inventory and materials as soon as you receive them: Test all your items and don’t make any assumptions. “We ordered promotional items – flashlights and pens – to include with the toolkits. Quite accidentally, we learned that half of our flashlights didn’t work. (My husband randomly picked up a flashlight to try out while I was assembling toolkits in the living room.) Thankfully, we had enough time to replace everything. We also found out at the last minute that our print job didn’t match up to the proof we approved. In that case, the printers were great at quickly redoing the job to meet our timeline.”
- Be proactive and intentional with thanking volunteers: “We showed gratitude to our volunteers throughout the project. They are important people. Without them, there would be no project. Small things make a difference. For example, we safely provided light catering to volunteers who took on shifts to assemble toolkits. We provided coffee gift cards to volunteer drivers, all part of expenses we covered in the original program budget.”
- Think of ways to wrap up your project nicely: “At the end of the project, we sent our core volunteer team members a gourmet boxed lunch, which we ate together in a “virtual celebration” on Zoom where we also shared our collective achievements and memories. We made sure our program budget included funding for this activity. It was important for us to acknowledge the commitment our core volunteer made for the duration of the project, and for their amazing contributions.”
For more information about South Vancouver Island’s CRNs or the ‘Keeping Safe in Our Communities’ program, please contact Coordinator Anna Hudson (email@example.com) or Regional Mentor Cari Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(Header photo: A. Hudson)