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Moving (and grooving) toward social connection at REACH Community Health Centre


The Community Investments team at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) supports the health promotion efforts of more than 65 partner organizations across the VCH Region through SMART and Community Food Action Initiative (CFAI) core funding grants. In response to participant concerns and to public health measures during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our partners have found ways to continue serving their vulnerable communities safely and effectively, and many have also stepped in to respond to new emergency needs. Along the way, our partners are finding that their innovations and adaptations are having additional positive effects.

Just one example is how the resourceful the Multicultural Family Centre team at REACH Community Health Centre was able to rapidly move their weekly ballroom sessions for Vietnamese seniors online, in order to keep more socially isolated seniors within this community connected and physically active.

Overcoming the challenges of online programming during COVID-19

Moving from in-person events to online can be both exciting and challenging. REACH showed just how adaptable and resilient both their staff and participants are through their combined efforts to make online dance sessions a success. Instructor Faye Hung, an internationally award-winning dancer and coach at the Crystal Ballroom Vancouver, said she realized, "if kids can have online classes, surely [our dancers] can do the same."  And when they did, Faye was thrilled to see the seniors' enthusiasm and willingness to embrace and learn new technologies.

Knowing that everyone has different access to technology and varied knowledge and comfort in using it, Faye and the REACH team tried to reduce as many barriers as possible. Through Facebook, a platform many seniors in the group already used, Faye and her colleagues at REACH were able to connect with most of the group's existing participants to share information about each week's session and instructions on how to meet in their new Facebook Live venue. The move tapped into broader social networks within the local Vietnamese community, drawing in new seniors including many more socially isolated, and making it easier for many participants to invite their friends, cross-generational peers and family to also shake-a-leg remotely with Faye. It also allowed for a greater number of participants each session, and a more diverse audience overall. The number of participants in the dance group has risen steadily: from 40 to 50 seniors to over 100 each week. With tech support through staff instructions (by other members of the group, and by their own children and grandchildren!), the seniors quickly learned and grew comfortable with the new technology. Many now use their new technological know-how to reach out and stay connected with family and friends distancing locally and around the world.

Faye also adapted what she was teaching in her sessions. She re-started each session with simple exercises and movements to reduce the intimidation felt by those who may have never danced before. She choreographed simple fun cha-cha, rumba, and jive routines for smaller home spaces while ensuring to engage the entire body. After several sessions, Faye noticed that the seniors seemed interested in taking it up a notch. She now covers all ten ballroom dances, and goes into the more technical details of how to perform each figure, what muscle groups to use and when to use them in each figure. This ensures that participants better understand how they are moving their bodies, why it is important to do so, and how to incorporate some of these movements into their regular routines.

This social dance group for seniors already showed incredible outcomes in strengthening social connectedness and improving physical, cognitive and mental well-being. Now the digital innovations born of necessity have resulted in even broader outreach, engagement, and community resiliency through opportunities for peer leadership, connection between families and generations, and technological empowerment within this vulnerable community. As one of the participants stated, dance sessions through Facebook Live have "helped us reach out and connect with people, induce less isolation, … use our unused muscles… and [keep] our brain working." They're all that, and a lot of fun too!

VCH's ongoing support for non-profit organizations

VCH is proud to support organizations such as REACH as they innovate and adapt in order to continue to promote health and well-being within the most vulnerable of their communities. As Juan Solorzano, Executive Director of VCH Regional Population Health, expressed: "We are so very grateful for all our community partners in health promotion. They have been critical in responding during this crisis to the rapidly evolving needs of their communities and in continuing to strengthen the resiliency of our communities now and into the future."

Find out more

Learn more about REACH on their website. Want to join the dance party? Click here to attend these livestreamed classes. 

SOURCE: Moving (and grooving) toward social connection at REACH Community Health Centre ( )
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