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Tablet donation opens new world for Ongwanada residents during pandemic

John Graczol, a resident in one of Ongwanada’s community residences, and Ongwanada staff member Jennifer Regan participate in a virtual planning meeting with Person-Centred Planner Maureen Hughson thanks to the donation of 20 tablet devices by Lionhearts Inc. Photo by Maureen Hughson.

Many of those are in Kingston and the area are familiar with Lionhearts Inc. and the work they do supporting some of the most vulnerable populations in our community.

The Lionhearts meal program, which began at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, serves up hundreds of meals daily to residents in Kingston, and recently expanded their meal programs to include an Amherstview location, as well. Prior to the pandemic, the organization was working behind the scenes, reclaiming unused food from restaurants and stores and redistributing it to those facing food scarcity.

And, of course, Lionhearts is also the organization behind The Embassy, a live music venue that does not serve alcohol and puts on shows that are often offered on a pay-what-you-can basis, and the organization also leads F.A.S.T.: Fight Against Sex Trafficking.

But while those more public gestures and operations the Lionhearts produce take the spotlight, the group continues to do incredible work for the community, and, in particular, those most in need within it.

Quietly last week, Lionhearts Inc. donated 20 tablet devices to Ongwanada, a local organization that supports those with developmental disabilities. An active part of the Kingston community since 1948, Ongwanada delivers programs and services at its three main sites in Kingston, and operates over 20 community residences for those with developmental disabilities. Those community residences are located in neighbourhoods across Kingston, Napanee, Gananoque, and the surrounding areas, and generally house three to six people with 24-hour staff.

For those with Ongwanada, the donation of the tablets was nothing short of extraordinary, and an act that served as a “real game changer” for those living in the community residences, as well as those who support them.

“The Lionhearts, by virtue of their community interests, focus on folks who are who are less privileged than many others in society,” said Alastair Lamb, CEO of Ongwanada. “And they understood that the folks that we support were in isolation, and they hit upon the idea that they could assist in terms of providing these folks with the tools that they could participate in some of the programming and some of the supports that they would otherwise be missing out on by virtue of physical distancing.”

The staff at Ongwanada began trialing the use of the tablets on Friday, May 8, 2020, and are quickly discovering their many applications. Primarily, the tablets allow the Ongwanada residents the ability to connect with staff members who would otherwise normally meet with them face-to-face. But beyond that, the staff at Ongwanada are currently rolling out a number of different programs and applications for the tablets, to allow residents to participate in occupational therapy sessions virtually, to access spiritual guidance and church services, to allow residents to connect with family and friends, and to join in a virtual Music Café to enjoy live music remotely.

When the staff at Ongwanada began trialing the tablets last week, it was immediately apparent that the tablets were a blessing in more ways than one. Jennifer Regan, a staff member at one of Ongwanada’s community residence, and Person-Centred Planner Maureen Hughson participated in that first trial with a client for person-centred planning meeting. These are meetings which are carried out annually, and can involve a number of participants, including residential support workers, occupational therapists, and/or family members.

“So a person-centred plan is a meeting that we do annually with individuals that we support to establish goals for the upcoming year, and we have an individual who, as it actually turned out… it was amazing,” Hughson said over the phone, the delight in her voice obvious.

Hughson explained that this particular individual doesn’t like the big meeting format, and can experience severe anxiety when changing environments. Although easily overwhelmed with in-person meetings, after working with Hughson and Regan prior to the meeting to understand how it would work, the client seemed a lot more comfortable with the process in a virtual setting.

“So having the ability to be in a setting that they’re familiar with, like the house, I think that alone was a huge help,” Regan said.

“It was really nice to be able to sit and, over the tablet, see a couple of people that needed to be part of this, and the individual was much more able to speak and be an active participant in the meeting, whereas before, a lot of the times, he wouldn’t be,” she continued, noting that, if the client became agitated, he was able to stand up and walk around during the tablet meeting, where he would have to be excused from the board room in an in-person situation.

“It was a lot of pressure off him where he could feel more comfortable,” she said. “There are a lot of different things that went very well with this, and I could see it being a real game-changer for the future.”

And, while the initial concept behind the tablet was to help break down some of the isolation caused by the pandemic, in the end, the staff at Ongwanada said they’re finding other applications and benefits from employing the virtual connections.

“It was just really great to see him come out of his shell and verbally speak for himself, and be comfortable to advocate more for himself when he felt comfortable,” Regan said.

“As Jen mentioned, it is a bit of a game changer in terms of how we would normally conduct these person-centred plans. So it’s definitely one of the benefits, if you can call it that, of this experience,” Lamb agreed.

Lisa Holmes, Manager of Eastern Region Community Network of Specialized Care for Ongwanada, explained that their staff is looking at multiple different ways to use the tablets and technology to create experience for those they support – people who are now going into their tenth week of stay-at-home isolation.

“Most of the time, these individuals are used to being out in the community, going to day activities, so we’re really trying to find ways to continue engaging and combat the boredom,” she said.

Through this week, the Ongwanada staff have begun to roll out a virtual wellness program with physical activity exercises by video designed by their occupational therapy team. They launched virtual meet-ups so residents could connect with their families, as well as the friends they’ve met through community programs and a peer support group. On Wednesday, Ongwanada’s Spiritual Care program, which is a non-denominational church, was launched virtually, allowing residents to take place in a mass and see the chaplain’s face – a bit of a return to their regular routines, Hughson said. On Friday, the resident’s will be engaging with one of Ongwanada’s physical therapists for Fitness Friday, and on Monday and Friday afternoons, the Ongwanada Café will feature live music performances via the tablets.

All staff members at Ongwanada expressed sincere thanks to the Lionhearts for the generous donation that is changing lives, both in terms of life during the pandemic, and otherwise.

“Obviously, the acquisition of the gift of these tablets is going to make a big difference in terms of supporting some of Kingston’s most vulnerable folks. Lionhearts has got a history of doing that, not only through this initiative, this project, but also through their involvement in various food programs within the City,” Lamb said.

Hughson echoed those sentiments wholeheartedly.

“The opportunity that is presented to the individuals that we support through these virtual activities, I’m so excited to see how things will be going forward, and I think it’s going to open up many, many new facets for people to connect with families, as well as each other,” she said. “We don’t know where this can go, but the opportunities are endless, really.”

For more information on Ongwanada and the work they do throughout Kingston and the area, click here.

For more information on Lionhearts Inc., or to offer financial support, click here.

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