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For Lori, one of the most difficult challenges early on in the pandemic was dealing with the sense of isolation it created.

Public health restrictions meant she could no longer enjoy regular in-person visits with her sister Leanne, her brother-in-law Dale or her niece Raya. Face-to-face meetings with friends and some of the people who provided her support also had to be put on hold.

Fortunately, Epic Opportunities was able to step in and help lessen the sense of isolation Lori and a number of other people the agency serves were feeling. Last August it purchased 10 Apple iPads that were distributed to people living at homes owned or managed by Epic Opportunities.

Funding for the devices was provided through the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund, which is managed by a number of different community organizations including the Winnipeg Foundation. The fund has provided $350 million in support to help community organizations who serve vulnerable Canadians during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It felt good. It made me happy,” Lori says of the computer tablet she and her roommate Teresa received last fall. “It made it easier for me to talk to people. It’s really good for talking with my sister.”

In addition to using the tablet to talk with family and friends, Lori utilizes it to take part in art classes, meet with members of a coffee group and is even learning how to play piano on it. The best part, she says, is that it allows her to connect with people she’s close to even if she can’t be there with them in person.

It’s a similar story for Teresa, who says she wasn’t able to connect with many people early on in the pandemic other than support staff before she and Lori had access to a tablet. Now she participates in a Friday online bingo group with a dozen other people served by Epic Opportunities. She’s also able to speak face-to-face with her brother and her niece and is taking part in virtual yoga and art classes.

“I feel less isolated,” she says.

Kristin Knockaert, Director of Human Resources for Epic Opportunities, says that’s exactly what the agency was hoping to achieve with the tablet initiative.

“We really wanted to give people a way to connect with others during the pandemic,” she explains. “Many of the people we serve met with some pretty tight restrictions early on. In a sense they were cut off from many of their supports due to the restrictions that existed and didn’t necessarily have the personal funds to invest in technology like this. We wanted to make sure that isolation was minimized as much as possible, and relationships could continue on.”

Part of the beauty of the iPads, according to Knockaert, is that because they’re so intuitive they didn’t require any kind of special software upgrades to make them accessible to the people who were destined to use them.

The homes that were chosen to receive a tablet were selected based on a number of considerations including: whether or not the home already had access to similar technology; where the devices could have the greatest impact; and where they could benefit the most people.

To date, feedback from people who live at the homes where the tablets were distributed has been phenomenal.

“The feedback we had was that people were able to either connect to their daytime supports or family or were able to actually increase those connections. We also received feedback from family members who had access to the devices saying they appreciated having a way to connect with their family member through Facetime or Zoom or Teams,” Knockaert explains.

“I think the main thing was there was just a general feeling of wellness that came from being connected. There was a real sense of positivity.”

Knockaert adds the agency might consider making tablets available at more homes in the future if a source of funding can be identified.

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