Pandemic perspectives: Community development in the time of COVID-19

Gerald Dragon

Since March 2020, the Community Development and Engagement team (CDE) at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre has had to adapt to the reality of how we provide services within the context of COVID-19. In a usual situation we might have been attending meetings, coordinating after-school programs, or supporting a partner agency and their initiative in the Strathcona Heights neighborhood. As a Community Development Worker, where the raison d’etre is to be out in the community engaging with residents and working alongside them to find solutions to issues being identified, this was a challenge early on in the pandemic. While we’ve had some successes along the way, we’re continuing to learn as time goes on. There’s a certainty that the future of our work has forever been changed.

Below are several CDE initiatives which were re-imagined with restrictions in mind; they have either already taken place or will be happening in the near future.

Together ApART mural: The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre along with artist Claudia Salguero invited 32 Sandy Hill residents to work separately, yet collaboratively, to create a mural that would be installed in Strathcona Heights. Participants received a copy of their segment of the mural outline, paints and brushes, and a canvas on which to work. Guided by a video Claudia created to outline the process, participants brought their own creative vision to their piece of the mural “puzzle.” The canvases were then collected, and Claudia used her years of mural creation experience to connect them into one beautiful piece. The canvas was then photographed, and the image printed onto an aluminum panel and installed in the neighbourhood.

Let’s Get Cooking: Working with the Centre’s Dietician, Stephanie Cyr, we will be registering between 10 and 12 families to participate in a fun family lunch event for three days during the April break. Each household will receive the ingredients necessary to prepare the various recipes they’ll be tasked with creating. Participants, through a Zoom link, will be cooking along with Stephanie who will be stationed in the first-floor kitchen of the SHCHC.

I Love to Dance: The City of Ottawa program typically has nearly 50 participants registered when done in person. This first virtual pilot session will be limited to 12 participants between the ages of 8-12, who will follow the instructor’s moves as they build a choreographed dance.

Strathcona Heights Gathering Garden: With funding from the TD Environmental Leaders Program through the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement, Strathcona Heights residents will be working with SHCHC, Ottawa Community Housing, and students from the University of Ottawa. The project will focus on strategies to increase community gardening activities in the neighborhood.

The list of activities demonstrates that despite the challenges we’re currently facing, there remain opportunities for engagement; while we’re being asked to keep six feet apart, we must still find ways of coming together.

Gerald Dragon is on the Community Development and Engagement team with the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.
Photo Hilary Duff