April 2

Quarantine Quality Time Episode 1: Helen Francis



The goal of the video series is to connect and inspire our community amidst uncertain times.


Hello, everyone! Brandon here from BuzzMasters today I have with me Helen Francis from the YMCA, and we’re going to talk about adapting to life amidst a global pandemic. How are you today, Helen?

I’m good. How are you?

I am coping I’m excited to do this little video series to get the community engaged with these “new” video meetings that we’ve all been doing.


So oh! we’ve got a little visitor.

Oh hi!

That’s Spinach

Oh wow, that’s a cute name for a cat.

Yeah, Spinach & Pesto, Pesto’s the doggo.

Oh, I like it very nice.

Stay down, lady.

So my first question for you today, Helen, is how has the pandemic affected you and your workplace?

Hmm, It’s been really dramatic. Obviously, as a YMCA, we really work with a lot of people in every single area that we function. So we have health, fitness and aquatics. And of course, all recreational centres are closed. We also have child care services, which at this point and time are all closed as well. And then for our employment and immigrant settlement services, uh, we have some reduced programs and services. So people are working from home and online. I think, though, aside from the program closures and that impacts the community we serve. The hardest part uh for myself and staff team is the unfortunate amount of staff we’ve had to lay off during this time, and that never sits well and it’s uh and we know it’s a scary time for them and it’s awful to have to put people in that position.

And to speak to the YMCA, I can’t tell you how much I miss it. It’s been so ingrained in my life already, and it’s it’s going to be very exciting when I finally get to fly through those doors again and enjoy that space.

Yeah, we’re looking forward to it we’ve had a few members even on the day we had to close that subsequently as we start to reach out to folks and really help them even though we are all kind of locked up in different spaces. Still feel a sense of belonging and breakthrough that loneliness.


There are many folks that share that sentiment, and for a lot of our staff, volunteers, members our clients, it was a second home. So it’s uh been really really tough Uhm I can tell you though if you’re looking for workouts, we do have them available online. So

Well, we will have to put a little link in there for the video.

Absolutely! That would be great.

That was they know how to access that which will be nice.


So on that note, what have you seen happen in response to the pandemic that’s inspired you in some way?

Many many many things, so first, I’m going to focus on our staff and volunteers. So for those that have been laid off, I think they’ve been truly inspirational and motivational. Not only did they accept that this was a situation that we were in um and that have been, I think, really honourable in how they’ve had to take that news. The number of them that have continued to work in what we would call the Y way and express our values of respect and responsibility for the community um they continue to do so, and it’s everything from making sure that their neighbours have got groceries to making up lunch bags that they are sharing with the various shelters for the vulnerable and the homeless. Through to posting rainbows just checking in on staff um all kinds of things. As well as trying to post some um motivational messages and some workouts and things like that too, so it’s a thousandfold that way they continue to reach out. Separately I’m really proud of our YMCA uh family and federation across Canada. Obviously, all YMCAs have been impacted in some way, shape or form. And uh a number are already looking at alternative programming so aside from online workouts. It’s also what else can we do, so a couple of YMCAs are looking at handing over their facilities too for temporary emergency shelters. To help homeless and vulnerable folks during this time um and you know the list goes on, we ourselves are trying to explore some of those options. As well as is there a way we can open up our facility or facilities to support child care services for essential service workers. While always maintaining the health, safety and well being of our staff. And uh the children that would be there too. The scenario that I’m aware of in southern Ontario where a YMCA has been a fitness facility of the YMCA has been handed over to um for temporary emergency shelters they’ve really opened up their gymnasium. And that’s where they’re maintaining the spaces necessary for accommodation and shelter on a 24/7 basis. So yes, they’ve brought in the bunks and the cots. But they’re also of course than allowing folks to access the showers and the washroom facilities. So it’s good, it’s a really necessary approach um not only do we have a housing crisis at the best of times. But it’s exasperated at a time where some of those locations that folks would have been able to find a roof or some shelter have closed. And so it’s putting additional strain on the various crisis centres that do exist. Plus, those crisis centres themselves need to be able to put some social distancing in place. And it tends to mean they can accommodate fewer in the locations that they uh currently own.

Well, that’s amazing for the YMCA to step up like that because you do have so many locations right, so that’s going to be a great help for the community, so thank you, that’s awesome.

It’s exciting to see it, and I think it you know the YMCA really prides itself on being part of the community and being able to respond to community needs so seeing how quickly uh folks have been able to adjust and be agile in their response uh it’s remarkable.

What have you and your family been doing to stay happy and healthy through all of this?

Well, definitely, I think um getting outside for some walks is necessary when you’re cooped up in close proximity to your loved ones no matter how much you love them. Um, it can feel a little bit like you’re on top of each other at times. The other area and I’m going to share a secret with you right now. But it’s um our oldest daughter’s birthday on Sunday, and we have a family of kids that range in age from 25 all of the way down to 13. And they’re game, puzzle crazy um so what we’ve decided to do and are currently planning and plotting in the background is we’re building sort of a scavenger hunt/escape room um game at the house. Because otherwise we can’t really go out and buy anything for her for her birthday um you know we could have the I .o.u of we’ll take you on a shopping trip. Whenever everything gets back to normality but we still wanted to make sure we got a chance to celebrate, so we’re having to tap into our creativity, and no doubt it will break up a little bit of monotony um for the kids on Sunday.

Sorry Spinach keeps jumping up.

How much it’s actually brought people together interestingly enough through all of this. With like all of the even if they’re virtual activities and stuff and you’re getting games and everything at home it’s really and with everybody reaching out to make sure their nonsense* their loved one and the people that are involved in their lives are okay it’s truly amazing to see the empathy really shine out of everybody in our community.

You know I’m I’m really confident that as a unified community with a strong, clear focus that we continue to exhibit those values that we care for each other that we will be able to endure this. And we will reopen um more of our programs and services at the YMCA, and I anticipate fully that they’re going to be more important than ever. We really are here to build healthy communities, and it’s going to be so so important when we get through this. Um, so we’re ready we’re ready to do that. We’re ready to connect the people when they will need it most. And we want to continue to offer our programs and services to enable everyone in our communities to live happy, healthy, active lives. And um without prompting it too much, you know we will need to rely on those donors out there to help us through this so that we can be here to do all of that necessary work um when the time comes. So for folks who are interested, they can always visit our website www.ymcaneo.ca for updates but also anyone that is in the fortunate position that they’re able to donate to keep us here for the long term that’s fabulous too.

And we have a wonderful community and a wonderful support from donors, so I’m excited to see the response for that.


Thank you so much for your time today Helen this has been awesome! I really appreciate it.

You’re very welcome. It’s been lots of fun! And I’m honoured to be the first person that you get to interview.


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