The Luso Canadian Charitable Society is one of Ontario’s most endearing social support institutions, linked to the Portuguese community. The remarkable work this organization has done with people who have any type of disability, has been very important for its upkeep and for the progressive expansion of its activities to both the facility’s users and their respective families.
This time of pandemic, which requires physical distancing, did not seem to be compatible with providing a service that requires the touch, affection, and physical care that are now almost prohibited when provided outside of the family sphere. However, as we will see in this interview that Heather Grand gave to Milénio Stadium, Luso Charities was able to reinvent itself and, as far as possible, is staying close to those who need them to live better and happier, because there’s no choice but to continue, life cannot stop. And we can all help – within everyone’s possibilities, together we can help the Luso Canadian Charitable Society to continue to make a difference in the lives of so many.
Milénio Stadium: How is the Luso Canadian Charitable Society dealing with the crisis created by Covid-19 pandemic? What measures did you have to take to prevent contamination of the virus?
Heather Grand: COVID-19 has changed much of the way we all live and interact with each other. This is especially true for our Luso organization and our Luso participants and their families.
As we continue to work through the implications of COVID-19, Luso participants well-being and health have been the most important part of our planning along with reducing the spread of the virus. Adults living with disabilities are a highly vulnerable population and many families were concerned over exposure to the virus through group activities or travelling on transit.
So, in consideration of Provincial Public Health directives and the need for increased health and safety measures, we made the difficult decision to temporarily close all Luso Support Centres in March for face-to-face programming.
But recognizing the positive impact and importance of social relationships, interaction, stimulation and daily routine that programs like Luso bring to families with disabled adult children, we decided to deliver Luso programs in a different way!
We moved rapidly to keep participants connected and to change the way we deliver programs, developing virtual programs and activities. Our online programs include regular social contact and communication with families and participants with a goal to reduce social isolation.
Luso’s new online curriculum has added more options and support for families, using a combination of technology and topics to engage Luso participants virtually. The Centres host a series of weekly participant online sessions with customised topics and the opportunity for participants to connect with their friends and Luso staff. Everyone loves to see faces and say hello to friends!
Our Virtual Learning Programs include personalized videos, messages from staff and modified program activities such as storytelling, baking, exercise, music all converted to a virtual platform. A recent example was an online scavenger hunt, enjoyed by more than 30 participants which resulted in much laughter and hilarity.
We are excited about how we are adapting to meet the needs of our participants in these unprecedented times, using creativity and technology, and how much participants and families are enjoying the social interaction and scheduled activities. Our response to these offerings has been positive since we started.
Luso has also reached out directly to families by delivering gift bundles with treats and program activity kits, such as cookie baking, jewellery making and delicious food stuffs. These door-to-door deliveries have provided a welcome change for families and the opportunity for staff to personally connect with families while maintaining social distancing.
While families are very happy and appreciative of the steps taken to connect and provide programs and activities to reduce boredom and isolation, they miss Luso and want to return soon.
We are busy planning and taking all possible steps for a safe return to regular programming. All Centres have enhanced cleaning and hygiene protocols in place. All staff are being equipped with and trained on the use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Programs are being amended to reflect social gathering constraints and respect physical distance guidelines. We look forward to welcoming our Luso family back as soon as possible.
MS: The life of this institution was never “easy” due to the type of service it provides. How are things now at a financial level?
HG: Like most charities, Luso has experienced a significant negative financial impact from the pandemic.
Since the closures in March, no operating revenues from program fees has been received. We are delivering online curriculum free of charge, as a much-needed service for our Luso participants, because we understand the impact isolation and loneliness can have during these difficult times.
Our annual fundraising revenue is severely impacted this year with the limitations on social gatherings and events arising from COVID-19. As a result, our famous Luso Golf Tournament has been deferred and we are shifting our Volta Luso Charities, a walk/ride/cycle event to an exciting new initiative; 2020 Luso Virtual Volta – Support Without Barriers.
As an organization that does not receive any ongoing government support, we will need help this year. We are asking the community for their continued generous support at levels beyond that of prior years. Program support for individuals living with disabilities is critical to their mental, physical and emotional well being and a necessary part of social inclusion and community integration. We need to be there for them.
MS: How do you predict the future for the institution?
HG: Our outlook for the future is strong. We have been blessed by the continued support and commitment of the Portuguese community since we started the Luso Canadian Charitable Society in 2002.
The community has been a partner in this critical journey and we hope they will recognize the need to continue to support those vulnerable individuals living with disabilities and their families. A need which has only grown and will continue to do so in the years ahead.
MS: How could the Portuguese community help?
HG: There are many ways to help. We also recognize that many of our community members have also been impacted during these unusual times and may not be able to support at the same levels as previously. But together and collectively we can do a lot!
• Spread the word and be an advocate for the work of the Luso Canadian Charitable Society Luso.
• Make a simple donation online.
Help us make our 2020 Virtual Volta an incredible success.
• Be a sponsor, a supporter, a participant!
• Join our 2020 Luso Virtual Volta – Support Without Barriers as an individual or team and challenge each other to walk, run or ride while raising funds for adults living with physical and/or developmental disabilities. Whether you’re a walker, runner or rider; families and supporters of any age, level of fitness or location around the world can participate and come together for this fun and worthwhile event.
• Our Virtual Volta is similar to past years. Participants can register online, raise funds and get active with friends and families. The major difference is that Volta will not take place on just one given day. Instead, over a four-week period in August, you can participate in Volta at your own pace, time, day and location any way you choose. Everyone has the ability to style Volta to their own taste!
2020 Luso Virtual Volta – Support Without Barriers recognizes the unique contribution that individuals and families living with disabilities bring to the community.
Challenge your friends and colleagues to join and/or create teams. Spread the message to family and friends outside of GTA, Ontario, Canada and across the globe.
Registration will open in late July and more exciting announcements about 2020 Luso Virtual Volta – Support Without Barriers will be coming shortly. Visit Luso’s website at lusoccs.org for more information and registration details or to donate.