Over the course of one week, neighbourhood houses have stepped up to get creative and rapidly shift services and programs to support their communities through the uncharted territory of COVID-19.
Often considered the heart of a community, neighbourhood houses create safe and inviting spaces for people of all ages and backgrounds to build connections, access services, and strengthen community. Built on the talents and resources of the local community, neighbourhood houses respond to evolving and emerging needs and assets unique to the community.
At a time like this, they’re more critical than ever.
“Neighbourhood houses are community hubs. All of the services and programs offered have been disrupted in some way and yet those needs are still there,” says Bob Prenovost, CEO of Association of Neighbourhood Houses BC. “We’ve had to scale down, but we still have a situation where people are looking for services and looking to stay connected. Now more than ever, neighbourhood houses need to stay in operations even though that means changing the way we’re doing things.”
At Collingwood Neighbourhood House staff have been reaching out to seniors by phone for regular conversations to alleviate loneliness and isolation — and to check in on essential needs like medication and food. Staff have been reaching out to local children and youth to get them set up with platforms to connect with each other and CNH youth staff, and to gauge children, youth, and their families’ food needs. Twenty-seven vulnerable families were recently provided with food packages to replace weekly dinners that were previously hosted in person. Childcare staff are creating videos that will be posted online of them reading stories so that children can still connect with their childcare teachers. And those experiencing or at risk of homelessness are being offered meals to-go at CNH’s regular Saturday-morning breakfast program and will continue to be connected to essential services like housing and rent supplements.
Behind the scenes it’s just as busy. Staff are continuing, from their homes, to explore innovative ways to deliver programming and strengthen community ties such as offering seeds for people to grow their own gardens and creating postcards to encourage people to explore different ways of connecting with each other.
“We think of food as a necessity,” says Jennifer Gray-Grant, Executive Director of Collingwood Neighbourhood House. “But there are other necessities too, like building connections. If we can connect with people in our community, they can also connect with each other. That’s a really important human need.”
When times are uncertain, communities are essential more than ever in building resiliency. Neighbourhood houses are critical to how our communities can weather these times and come out the other side stronger than ever.
“When we talk about the work we do everyday, we talk about our programs, services, and initiatives but what we’re really doing is we’re forming relationships with people in our neighbourhood,” says Jennifer. “This is a place where people feel a sense of belonging—that’s what we’re really continuing to build.”
Vancouver Foundation is proud to support 15 neighbourhood houses across Metro Vancouver through the Community Response Fund. Offer your support by donating directly to a neighbourhood house like Collingwood to ensure these essential services can continue.