With the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine just around the corner, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the men and women at Multiworks Vocational Training Corp. in Meadow Lake.

Phase 2 of the province’s vaccine rollout, set to begin in April, will include residents and staff in group homes for persons with intellectual disabilities.

“It’s certainly been an experience,” remarked Multiworks executive director Dave Thickett with regard to the adjustments made in response to the pandemic. “From the perspective of our residents, they sort of amazed us with their adaptability and their toughness. Sometimes we sell them a little short in thinking they don’t really understand, but it seems they do or, at the very least, they have complete trust in us. However, it has still been a challenge.”

This was echoed by Jesse Ramshaw, program coordinator at Multiworks, who said – with so many Multiworks clients at risk of contracting the virus – day-to-day routines had to be refined to the point where both the clients and the community were forced to miss out.

“Everyone in Meadow Lake knows Multiworks is such a community based organization,” Ramshaw said. “Everything we’ve put together, all our programming has been designed to be inclusive and to have our participants not just be spectators, but to be involved in what’s going on in the community. Throughout the last year, things have significantly changed both out of safety and out of necessity. The clients are, I believe, resilient, but are also hopeful and anticipating the day when they can once again be back with the community and involved in what’s going on.”

This doesn’t just apply to volunteer or recreational opportunities either.

“We lost every single one of our employment situations (because of COVID-19),” Thickett noted. “We had 23 people who had employment somewhere in town. They were all lost, and while we have since recovered some, it’s nowhere near what we had.”

Thickett also said, however, the Multiworks clients thrive on simply being able to socialize with each other, as well as with people they would normally meet on the street.

“The inability to do this wasn’t too bad over the summer because we could go out as a little group, stick to ourselves, go to our own little corner of the beach and not go near other people,” he said. “Since winter has come, that’s been taken away as well. They can’t go to the toboggan hill, there are no hockey games to watch… all these things they are really missing. And, for the better part of the pandemic, the group homes have been isolated unto themselves. It’s not just the fact they can’t associate with other people in town, they can’t associate with other people in other group homes.”

In an effort to keep clients active, Ramshaw said Multiworks staff have been working hard to come up with new and unique ideas.

“What an evolution we’ve had in the sense of trying to find new, creative ways to keep everyone entertained and busy,” he said. “We scavenged the Internet looking for different resources… in the summer we did a photo scavenger hunt, while one group built a five-foot Eiffel Tower out of newspapers. We’ve done so many different things we would never have tried otherwise.”

Thickett added to this, stating Multiworks has had some activities at its day program, but on a secluded basis meaning only one group a a time.

“Jesse and his peers have done a fine job in coming up with ideas to keep everyone busy, interactive and as active as possible,” he said. “We’ve also added TV and Netflix options (in the group homes), have bought people iPads, and many of them have been FaceTiming each other.”

Multiworks currently serves 60 clients, many of whom have had their fill of COVID-19.

“I’m tired of staying home, I miss work, going to camp and bowling,” noted Shirley Smith.

Fellow Multiworks client Deb Bonneau agreed, adding she hoped to go to more places after she gets her vaccines.

“I miss bowling, and going for my birthday lunch with staff,” she said.

by Phil Ambroziak