Revelstoke Recovers: Community Connections navigates social service response during the pandemic

Revelstoke social services organization focuses on responsiveness, connection, and social justice to adapt to challenges created by COVID-19.

Sheena Bell

This story first appeared in print in the Summer 2020 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. Read the e-edition here:  

One of the defining characteristics of the COVID-19 era is uncertainty about the future, be it next week, next month, or next quarter — let alone the years to come. This uncertainty means making predictions about the future, always fraught with error, is even more challenging now. For our Revelstoke Recovers theme issue, we sought out leadership voices in Revelstoke for their thoughts on our path ahead to meaningful recovery for Revelstoke. Our hope is their words and information will help connect readers with meaningful responses to the crisis, empowering community members to get involved on the road to recovery. This article first appeared in print in the Summer 2020 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

By Sheena Bell, CEO of Community Connections Revelstoke

On March 13 I found myself texting my friend and colleague: “Are you sure you want to get on a plane to Mexico with your family today? I think this is the real deal and you will have to quarantine for 14 days when you get back,” I wrote. I don’t remember specifics after that date, other than looking at the management team and saying, “It’s time to lock the doors to the office.”

Staff shared huge concerns about what the shutdown and isolation would mean for the mental health of the community and what we should do with no clear path to follow. What I have seen and come to know for sure, is that the capacity we have to adapt and connect with each other through struggle is fundamental to who we all are as people. When it comes down to it, we know how to step into what is needed, and when we see ourselves as a part of the story being told (from a responsibility mindset), we join in and invest in the outcome of the whole.

All the way along, the 67 employees and our many volunteers have shown their investment and willingness to stay connected to removing obstacles to the preferred lives of the individuals, groups, and families that continue to consult with us as a part of their story. The other thing that became very clear, is how systemic oppression actively constrains peoples preferred ways of being, and how institutional systems and their internal processes move MUCH slower than the evolving needs of people. As a large (for the size of our community) non-profit organization, we were in a good spot to be able to adapt. We saw demands for services triple, and we shifted our delivery models to allow us to never stop connecting with the community we are committed to serving. The relational context is key — we see ourselves as an important part of the stories in people’s lives in our community; ALL people here in Revelstoke, and beyond, belong and are valued, and we are honoured to consult in the development, co authoring, and re-authoring of the stories of their lives through responsive service delivery. We listen to people’s stories and believe they are the experts in their lives, they will tell us what they need and how they would like us to help; it’s our job to hear them and respond, even in a pandemic.

I was constantly impressed by how fast staff adapted services and joined forces to address the pandemic increases to obstacles, marginalizations, and oppressions imposed in people’s lives. We saw the barriers amplified; there was more disconnection, loneliness, fear, and worry taking up space than ever before, and at a rate that was growing faster than we normally see. If someone’s access to power, resources, healthy relationships, and capital became limited or was taken away, there was an almost immediate disconnection from a way of life that brought safety, certainty, and belonging. Many of the people we serve faced, and continue to face, systemic oppression that has imposed further obstacles to the kind of relationships, connections, and contributions they would prefer to make to their community.

For us as an organization, the needs to change, adapt, grow, and connect in more accessible ways (expanded hours, virtual access, home deliveries, and outreach services) with the people we serve and community partners became ESSENTIAL. We moved all of the food and outreach services to our parking lot (thanks for the tent, Rotary) so we could be safe, thoughtful, and open up services, resources, and connections for people on a bigger scale, basically overnight. Another huge shout out to the amazing work of the Community Living Services team who really came together to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the adults with diverse abilities that we care for in residential and community settings!

In social services, we are always trying to promote social change and the redistribution of access to power and resources in a more equitable way (work ourselves out of a job). It’s hard for us to see the obstacles grow and become more complex in people’s lives through this pandemic. We are grateful to get the opportunity to learn about the stories, lived experiences, and hard earned skills of living and resiliency that the people we support invite us to witness and support. We know that justice doing is not a one-off . It’s a contract that gets renewed every morning, up for review every time we see each other and at the end of every day when we go over our best efforts, and then is re-written and built into the next one-day contract. So if you miss something or learn something new, you get to start again the next day to do your best.

As an agency, we are committed to honouring the responses to injustices by doing what we can to address our own barriers to adapting and offering a better, more responsive, and just service delivery process. The adjustments would not have been possible or sustainable without the rapid response funds (Columbia Basin Trust, United Way, Revelstoke Credit Union, Revelstoke Community Foundation, Food Banks BC and Food Banks Canada, Community Food Centre’s Canada, BC Housing) or without YOUR donations and support.

Something to leave you with are some reflective questions: locating ourselves in relationships with the issues brought about or highlighted through the pandemic brings us closer to them, and locating ourselves in relationships with everyone impacted, makes these issues personally relatable. A couple questions to ask might be: What do I need to open myself up to in order to hear or feel this in a meaningful way? If I saw myself as personally affected by this (or the broader issues), how would it change my participation today … and beyond? If I believed that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have, would that change how I see the problem? What beliefs might I be holding that are getting in the way of me being a part of a solution?

Keep connecting, Revelstoke. We all have valuable places in the unique and collective stories being written in our community, families, and our individual lives.