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Zoombaya Creates Virtual Connection

Many of us are familiar with the song “Kumbaya” – an oft sung camp song that, loosely connected to the Creole/Gullah culture, means “Come by here”. It might easily have served as a theme song for many of Communitas’ day services in which staff come alongside someone living with a developmental disability, mental health challenge, or acquired brain injury and journey with them as they navigate life.

But in March, the COVID19 pandemic brought an abrupt halt to the way these services are delivered. At the Communitas offices in Abbotsford, this impacted three programs in particular: Community Living Program (CLP), which serves people living with developmental disabilities, Supported Independent Living (SIL), which serves people living with mental health challenges, and the Brain Injury Drop-In, which supports people living with an acquired brain injury. Suddenly, those vital face-to-face, one-on-one or small group gatherings weren’t possible.

“Connecting with our people over the phone was a substantial shift in how we offered services, and we were finding that it didn’t adequately meet people’s needs,” says Lisa McIntosh who manages CLP.

Zoombaya is Born

Out of this challenge, “Zoombaya” was born. If staff would be unable to physically ‘come by’ the people they serve, then perhaps an alternative would be to come alongside people virtually using Zoom. Vicky Manderson, who manages SIL, first thought it might be possible to get people exercising at home doing something like Zumba, from which the name eventually emerged. But as the team got together to brainstorm the idea, they felt it could be a great way to connect on a bigger scale.

“We felt it would be better if persons served could see and interact with their workers as much as possible, during this stressful time,” Vicky explains. “As managers, we sat down and started fleshing out the idea more and finally pitched it to our program director, Christine, who was quite enthusiastic about the project.”

Micah takes fun very seriously.

Zoombaya is predominantly live and interactive, with a few pre-recorded sessions to supplement programming. There are set times throughout the week with themes for each day: Meaningful Monday, Creative Corner on Tuesday, Workout Wednesday, Fun and Games Thursday, and Free for All Friday. A Facebook Group was created as a way to let people know what’s happening each day. The program continues to expand as staff and individuals get comfortable with the platform. For example, two cooking classes and an additional exercise class were added and have been well received. All the classes are intended to incorporate skill development and goals, support self-care, and create social interaction. On weekends, pre-recorded materials allow individuals to continue to stay connected and be encouraged.

“The Zoom platform is also a great way to build social networks, and it’s been fun watching people across programs connect and get to know one another,” says Sheral Jones who manages the Brain Injury Drop In.

Feeling Supported

Darlene, a SIL participant, says isolation has been the most difficult thing about COVID. Having Zoombaya to look forward to every day has been a lifeline.

“Zoombaya has helped me ten-fold,” she says. “When you deal with depression, it’s something that builds up over time. Having this every day keeps you in a good mood. It stimulates me and encourages me.”

She’s enjoyed all the activities and has enjoyed interacting with all those who participate.

The Zoombaya Carnival had a variety of fun games and challenges adapted for the on-line environment

Elizabeth, who connects with CLP, agrees. She participates daily and says it has helped ease her anxiety about what’s happening in the world. The biggest disappointment for Elizabeth was the necessary postponement of her wedding. Not being able to connect with her friends and her fiancé was hard and she needed support.

“Zoombaya has helped me stay connected to Communitas staff and my friends,” she says. “I participate every day and look forward to it. I now have a new routine.”

For Kortnnaye, a Brain Injury Drop In participant, Zoombaya has also been an important connection. Her life is normally quite active; she volunteers, meets with friends, and goes to the gym. Now, none of those activities are possible.

“I didn’t realize how much I do,” she exclaims.

Sheral and Vicky lead a Workout Wednesday session, which is very popular with participants.

She takes part in Zoombaya every day and enjoys the exercise and activities the most. The motivational talks on Mondays and Fridays allow her to connect with Sheral and helps keep her positive. She’s grateful that she can do all of this from home.

“I know that places are opening up again but I won’t go out,” she says. “It’s just much safer to stay home.”

Room to Grow

As the program grows and develops, staff continue to look for new ways to keep people engaged through Zoombaya. With the uncertainly of how things will look even in the near future, they want to make sure that they continue to offer support and have fun. And while the response from individuals has been very positive, it’s also been a positive experience for staff.

Jonathan’s twice-weekly cooking classes are a great way to connect while learning a new skill.

“This has been an awesome opportunity for three very different programs to come together and work alongside each other and bring this to life,” Vicky says. “Every team member has brought something to the table, whether they’re on screen or working diligently in the background.”

Learn more about our services for people living with developmental disabilities, mental health challenges, and acquired brain injury.

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