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Supporting unsung heroes


Taking care of her husband David is a 24/7 job for Barbara. Because of his Alzheimer’s, David needs Barbara’s coaching to complete most of his daily tasks, like personal care, eating, dressing and more.  

For caregivers like Barbara, respite from her duties is essential to her wellbeing. Before the pandemic, she would attend a monthly caregiver support group and her husband would attend three day-programs each week. 

COVID-19 changed everything. 

Life for informal caregivers was already difficult. But as public health restrictions tightened, many critical services could no longer serve seniors and their caregivers safely in person. For many caregivers, having that lifeline cut off made the burden of caregiving grow exponentially.

Barbara still needed support. The social services she depended on needed to pivot. 

Now, Barbara attends a caregiver group online, and her husband joins in virtual day programs to keep him cognitively active.

Being able to access support in a similar way has helped Barbara maintain some sense of normalcy, and to have a mental break from caring from her husband.

“I’m caring for my husband, he was diagnosed 10 years ago with Alzheimer’s. David went to three programs a week before the pandemic. It’s lovely to have the staff that have been involved with him, still involved with him virtually.”

While online programs are not the same as having her husband attend in-person programs out of the house, Barbara still recognizes the benefits of having her husband engaged online: “it’s something to keep him thinking and exposed to different things.”

365 days a year, on slow days and during crisis, there are thousands of behind-the-scenes helpers who are critical to keeping our communities safe and healthy. 

Volunteers, neighbours, informal caregivers and friends keep the most vulnerable people connected and cared for—responsibilities that are even more critical during COVID-19. 

United Way East Ontario’s partnership with the Champlain Community Support Network (CCSN) has ensured volunteers can quickly move into action to address the most pressing needs across East Ontario. For many years, we have also partnered with CCSN to support informal caregivers, who are an essential part of our healthcare system.

“When the pandemic first hit, the CCSN was highly impacted. United Way helped us to bring a volunteer tool online to recruit new volunteers during COVID.”

Volunteers continue to deliver groceries, meals and essentials to isolated seniors and conduct telephone wellness checks to make sure the most vulnerable people in our communities don’t fall through the cracks.

“Many people are isolated or have health issues and require assistance in getting groceries and necessities, and accessing nutritious meals. Some also need telephone check-ins to monitor their health and wellbeing,” said Nathalie Lafrenière, Executive Director of the Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre and a member of the Champlain Community Support Network (CCSN).

Addressing long-standing challenges

In partnership with the Champlain Community Support Network and the Champlain Dementia Network, United Way released the Eastern Ontario Caregiver Strategy in October 2020 to serve as a roadmap that would better serve caregivers like Barbara. 

As COVID-19 wears on, caregivers are feeling increased burden and stress. The caregiver strategy aims to address common challenges, like a lack of respite, inability to plan for the future, and confusing navigation in the healthcare and social services systems.

Working better together

From the very beginning of the pandemic, volunteer and caregiver support has been one of the main priorities in our COVID-19 response. It’s through partnerships like this one with the Champlain Community Support Network that United Way can support people who are lending a helping hand through COVID-19.

“We’re very pleased to have an ongoing partnership with United Way to support our seniors and our caregivers, we see the support in our work every day.”

Tracy Crowder, Co-Chair, CCSN



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