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  • ONWA

Innovative Approaches to Community Coordination During COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

Thunder Bay, ON - In the spirit of community supporting community, the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) continues to support Indigenous women, their families, and community with a newly developed Community Coordination Approach. In any crisis, there is potential for gaps in services, which is why ONWA has created a centralized intake; those who need a safety plan, advocacy or support are able to access services without a complicated referral process. ONWA will support those who call as quickly as possible. This will be achieved through a crisis continuum, from programming in the home to having someone help with developing a safety plan when the home is no longer safe. This approach ensures Elders, seniors, adults and children have access to services that meet their needs.

The only way for a measurable wellbeing impact is to support the community as a whole. ONWA’s centralized intake uses a coordinated access and response approach, creating a single point of entry that aligns with partner organizations. This allows the most vulnerable populations access to immediate support needs and service delivery. Supporting community members so they have the ability to quarantine and self-isolate is a priority. It is here that the need for food security and housing are necessary in order for community to play their role in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

ONWA recognizes that many women and families are having difficulty accessing services. Moreover, we recognize the increased levels of gender-based violence across our communities. As a result, ONWA has created a plan to help. By adapting the intake process, individual and family needs can be provided for as quickly as possible, regardless of location. We are working with a well-established network of ONWA sites, chapters and other community partner organizations throughout the province to deliver services to those in need. ONWA recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis on top of existing issues that Indigenous women and communities face daily.

Utilizing a physical distance approach, ONWA programs are providing Drop and GoBAGS to support community members in their time of need. The four types of GoBAGS are food, family, moontime and health promotion, and are an immediate source of comfort. A combination of these bags can be provided depending on the need of individuals and families. This initiative has been rolled out provincially. Other GoBAGS’s are designed with specific program needs in mind, and includes children’s activities, craft activities, hotel and hygiene bags, responding directly to community needs. Providing accurate, point form, easy to read COVID-19 information in GoBAGS is another frontline function, including the provision of harm reduction strategies and supports during these stressful times. The ONWA Community Services team continue to provide one-on-one community member supports, utilizing a physical distancing approach.

ONWA Board President Dawn Lavell-Harvard shared, “Working remotely has allowed ONWA’s dedicated staff to exercise their enormous creativity. They are providing much needed services on new platforms and in unique ways that prioritizes health and safety for community and themselves during COVID-19.”

ONWA has made significant investment in both technology and information systems. This positions the team to continue providing reimagined programming to individuals and communities. ONWA can safely and effectively deliver large online training events, information sessions, group meetings, workshops, and one-on-one support services to community members throughout the province. The Aboriginal Diabetes program for example, has recently released a series of “How To” videos, including a video on the importance of proper handwashing and highlighting the right way to do so. This information is meant to educate and is critical in preventing the spread of COVID-19. These videos also help those with Diabetes to protect themselves from contracting it.

“As a mother, I understand the value of the work ONWA is doing on a new frontline that was drawn when COVID-19 suddenly appeared in our lives and in our work. As an Indigenous woman and a leader, it is with great pride that I have the honour of witnessing a transformation of work platforms and processes across our organization. I have also witnessed first-hand relationships that were already strong, growing as we look to each other for support.” stated ONWA Executive Director Cora McGuire-Cyrette.

ONWA, as the largest Indigenous Women’s Organization in Canada, supported over 14,000 people in the province of Ontario in 2019. In six weeks of the current pandemic ONWA delivered more than 2,800 emergency services provincially. Over 4,300 resources have been provided through our network and to communities throughout the province. ONWA is an example of an essential services provider, continuing to work on the frontlines. The pursuit of unprecedented operational excellence is driven by the need to realize ONWA’s critical vision of Supporting Women’s Leadership.

- Cora McGuire-Cyrette, Executive Director Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA)

For more information, please contact:

Andre Morriseau, Communications Manager Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA)

Email: | Tel: (647) 970-7661


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