Nearly 100 Mississauga residents who have an intellectual disability live independently with support from Community Living Mississauga’s Supported Independent Living (SIL) program.

Most of the people supported through SIL spend most days at work or participating in day activities, then receive a few hours of residential support in the evenings.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people receiving support through this program were subject to the same social distancing protocols, job and volunteer disruption, and prolonged isolation which affected us all. In many cases, however, their social isolation was even more pronounced as they often had fewer community supports available to access.

In response to people’s social isolation during COVID-19, Community Living Mississauga’s SIL Team, in cooperation with the Manager, Volunteer Services, recruited volunteers to connect with people on a virtual basis. These virtual volunteers were paired with people we support to provide the additional social and emotional supports needed in their lives.

One incredible success story is the match of virtual volunteer Samantha Chiofalo and Maria Orr.

Samantha and Maria agreed to meet once a week for 12 weeks via Zoom. Each week, Samantha and Maria jointly planned virtual activities that were of interest to both of them.

Some of the activities that Maria and Samantha enjoyed together were:

  • Live videos of Ripley’s Aquarium, animal shelters, gardens, and bird feeders
  • Pictures/videos/documentaries of animals, insects, flowers, and movie posters
  • Photographs/animations/artwork/wallpapers on Pinterest
  • Online tours of Coventry, England
  • Researching English castles and churches
  • Sharing their artwork, and keepsakes

Throughout their 12 weeks together, Samantha and Maria got to know each other well. Some of Maria’s favourite virtual activities were watching YouTube videos of wild and domestic animals and sharing the escapades of her cat Pumpkin.

Navigating Zoom and other virtual platforms was new for both Samantha and Maria. Both were willing to take the time to learn new skills and eventually became proficient at communicating with each other in new ways. As Maria learned new technological skills, she felt very comfortable asking for support from Samantha and the SIL team when she needed it.

According to Shalane Duce, the Community Living Supports Manager with the SIL program, Maria’s benefitted from the consistent social connection as it positively impacted her social skill development. As Maria was exploring her heritage, she was also learning to build a new relationship with Samantha and finding a new way to safely keep engaged with others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maria enjoyed the virtual connection, saying that “Samantha was a nice person. I liked her smile. We had a good time together. We got along really great!”

The virtual volunteering program started its second session in September. While this session will end in late December, we plan to continue offering virtual volunteering opportunities in Community Living Mississauga programs for as long as COVID-19 forces us to socially distance from others.