Connected Canadians: Non-Profit Helping to Connect Seniors to Their Families and Communities During the COVID 19 ShutdownWritten by Chelby Daigle
Connected Canadians took shape in early 2018 to assist the multitude of seniors who lack the technology skills to easily connect to their friends and family online.
The federally incorporated organization had assisted more than 300 senior individuals with in-person technology training prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. Now that pandemic isolation has made the need to connect even more pressing, Connected Canadians outreach services are in even greater demand.
Muslim Link interviewed Connected Canadians co-founders Emily Jones Joanisse and Tas Damen about how their organization is adapting to meet the growing needs of seniors and their families in Ottawa and beyond during the COVID 19 shutdown.
Tell us about yourselves
Emily Jones Joanisse: Besides working in tech since I was 17, I’ve also worked at multiple non-profits and educational institutions and have seen first hand the life-changing power of technology and digital literacy. I have a Bachelor of Computer Science, and a MBA with a focus on International Development.
Tas Damen: I am a first-generation immigrant with B.Sc Honours in Computer Mathematics, and an IT Graduate certificate in Project Management. I have 15 years of experience in software design and development with a passion to both learn and teach. I see the power of technology as an enabler as well as the accessibility and availability barriers which still need addressing.
Why did you found Connected Canadians?
We have been the “go-to people” to help with technology in our extended circles throughout our adult lives. I (Tas) remember helping my mother-in-law’s dad, a retired professor in his 80s, over the phone. He thought he broke his laptop but in reality the culprit was his trackpad settings.
While we saw that many other demographics were addressing the gaps in digital literacy skills for women and youth, for instance — the same was not true for seniors. Our similar experiences made us realize that there is a significant need in this area for a demographic not exposed to technology. Technology is fundamental to a healthy, functioning community and there wasn’t a sustainable free service for older adults and seniors., Connected Canadians is our answer to that.
How is your organization adapting to address the challenge that physical distancing is presenting to seniors and other community members with less skills around technology use?
We were fortunate to have started in early 2018, which gave us a good opportunity to build partnerships with established senior communities like Ottawa Community Housing, Bruyere, and the Perley Rideau & Veterans Health Centre.
In light of the current environment, we had to quickly pivot to offer our programming remotely while still keeping human connection at the centre of it. For example, for our one-on-one support we use a combination of visual tools to provide guided support with a smile and patience.
Our start-up thinking has also enabled us to complement our diverse volunteer base with service industry workers who are otherwise out-of-work during the lockdown. We have received an economic development grant from the City of Ottawa so between now and November 2020, we will run a ground-breaking skills development program that arose in direct response to COVID-19. The objective is to pay unemployed individuals — primarily from the food service/hospitality industry — to become remote technology mentors for our clients. Our training for the mentors will build on the mentors’ basic grasp of commonplace technology and help them develop new research and problem-solving abilities. We are extremely gratified that this grant will allow us to improve and expand our free services at a time when they are more urgently needed than ever.
What challenges are you seeing the seniors and community members facing, and how are your trying to help them?
The largest challenge remains to be digital connectivity and availability. Going into the pandemic, our existing seniors communities were already connected and had devices so they were a good position to remain digitally connected with Connected Canadians support. However, we are now discovering large pockets of seniors who have no devices, or internet connectivity. They need, for instance, to Facetime with their grandkids or learn how to order food and medicine online.
To address this challenge we have started a number of new programs including Mail-A-Device and our digital support technology hotline. With the Mail-A-Kit program we loan a pre-configured Connected Canadians device to a senior for a set period of time alongside a few one-on-one support sessions to get the participant more comfortable with the device.
We are also looking beyond Ottawa. Our intention for the future is to implement a 1-800 number to reach seniors nationally who need digital support and advice to get connected with their communities and families.
Who can access your services?
We have been working directly with seniors and also through our senior community partners to serve specific at-risk senior populations. We are in the process of scaling to help out seniors nationally so that free technical help can be provided to everyone in need, but we need additional partners and sponsors to make this a reality.
How can people support your organization?
We are a registered non-profit organization for whom, financial donations are very helpful as they allow us to buy the devices that we know are needed for our senior clients. We also welcome device donations and volunteer time. You can find out more at www.connectedcanadians.ca/give.
Simpler ways to help us out include following us on social media and liking/sharing our posts to help raise community awareness.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
This pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable our senior communities are in Canada. With social distancing and a work-from-home environment we are all juggling many things at the same time but, human connection and reduced social isolation (especially for our seniors) is just one conversation away.
To learn more about volunteering with Connected Canadians, click here
To learn more about how you or your organization could sponsor Connected Canadians, click here
To learn more about Connected Canadians, visit their website here
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