As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, Lacey Grady was hearing the same questions from clients and their families over and over again. Grady, the Community Engagement Lead Direct Service Provider at NW Works, says concerns swirled about exposure and the risk of returning to the Shawnee Drive facility for in-person service.
“But they’re also concerned about the individual they love and support. [There are] fears of regression or what will be when things are ‘back to normal’,” Grady said. She knew she wanted to be able to provide some type of transitional services to help clients prepare for a return to in-person services, whenever it would be allowed.
At the same time, she was watching as other organizations across the country started running virtual support services. After hearing from a friend in New Orleans who created a similar program, Grady began exploring the possibility for NW Works. Once funding became available, Grady jumped at the opportunity to start a virtual day support program.
Working closely with Service Coordinator Jamie Hoffman, Grady designed an hourly program held twice a week to provide virtual support to small groups of clients. The program, which began in early February, has been a success so far, says Grady. During the first session, two clients who had a close relationship were able to see each other, possibly for the first time in months. She said the couple were thrilled to see each other, despite being separated by a screen.
“Re-engaging in a meaningful way and allowing folks to see some of their friends they haven’t seen for months,” Grady said. “That was one of the most exciting things about the first session.”
Sessions consist of several activities that align with the goals clients have set for themselves, such as social goals, health goals, and safety goals. Grady says a typical session would start with an ice breaker of sorts to help clients navigate through a social situation, such as a potential conflict in the workplace. Afterwards, the group might watch a video on a health or safety topic, pausing to discuss the content as they watch together. The group then participates in a game or other light-hearted activity that reinforces the concepts addressed in the video. Then, they close the session with a coping skill-related activity, such as yoga or meditation.
There are, of course, limitations to the service. Grady says it’s challenging to find ways to work in activities and create a curriculum that meets the individual goals each client has set. Getting clients to show up and stay focused consistently can be difficult as well, especially if they don’t have access to reliable internet.
“There is an ineffable connection you have when you’re in person,” she added. “So there’s a loss of that too.”
Despite the challenges, Grady thinks that offering virtual services is a step in the right direction for day support programs and in particular, community engagement programs.
“I’d like to see something where you do community engagement and virtual in tandem,” Grady said. She envisions a program where clients could learn skills in a virtual small group setting and then go into the community to practice and build the physical skills. Virtual groups could open the program to those who either cannot go to the Shawnee Drive facility or choose not to, perhaps due to perceived stigma.
As the program grows, Grady sees plenty of opportunities to expand the offerings available to clients, allowing for more personalized programming.
“It’s new and it’s adapting and it is open for personal choice,” she said. “Providing them with a different option I think could be really beneficial.”
If you are a client or the parent or guardian of a client and are interested in learning more about Virtual Day Support, please contact your Lead DSP.