Shazma Nafis, a former NYWC intern and peer support worker, reflects on the process of moving from online to in-person services.
Connecting with participants at our very first in-person event since the start of the pandemic, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of happiness. For the last two years, North York Women’s Centre has worked incredibly hard to ensure our virtual services and programs were accessible to women. The COVID-19 pandemic put a lot of pressure on small organizations like ours to come up with ways to ensure that people in communities were supported during an extremely difficult time. With the loosening of provincial restrictions, NYWC has slowly begun the process of shifting our services and programs back to in-person delivery, and I could not be more excited to be a part of the journey.
“We missed that in-person connection.”
Delivering services virtually as a non-profit organization is a hard path to navigate, but one that we achieved. There are many things to consider in terms of safety, reliability and accessibility of an online experience. Although I was not part of the team when the initial shift to online services happened in 2020, I was very impressed at how smoothly things were run at the organization. Working virtually alongside my co-workers since the summer of 2021, there was a shared appreciation of being able to work from home, but also greatly missing that in-person connection.
I value in-person relationships with people because that is how I feel I can get to know them best. And working in a small non-profit, it is particularly important for the team to be close. Sure, online team meetings every week were great, but I still felt there was something missing. Speaking with our lovely participants showed me that the feeling was shared among many. A lot of people were vulnerable during the height of the pandemic and many issues that they faced were exacerbated. While our virtual programs and services were a lifeline for many, meeting participants in person feels wonderfully gratifying.
In March 2022, there were serious talks about shifting back to in-person services starting May 2022. My first thought was about how many people would find our new programs accessible. My second thought focused on how we could decorate our new workspace, as we had recently finished renovations in our office. My colleagues and I spent several hours reading IKEA manuals, building furniture and painting a mural. (Pictured above.) All these activities made me feel excited to open our space again for participants to enjoy!
“Nothing compares to connecting with our team and participants in person.”
Every experience brings new learning, and the NYWC team and I feel grateful for the digital offerings and skills that we built over the past two years. These will continue to serve us well now and in future, as we meet the service needs of an ever-wider variety of participants. Still, nothing compares to connecting with our team and participants in person and experiencing the warmth of a smile and the twinkle of an eye with no screens between us.
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