Illawarra customers staying connected while staying apart

By Luisa Bustos, 21 April 2020 , Comments

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Northcott has been working to ensure services and programs continue for customers while adhering to the new rules. For young people, like Yusuf, who access our Vocational Skills and School Leaver Employment Service (SLES) program in the Illawarra, this has meant moving to online group sessions to continue developing skills and staying connected with friends.

Like most participants in Northcott’s Wollongong and Oak Flats SLES programs, Yusuf has adjusted to the new program quickly.

“I thought it was a fantastic idea. I was worried about being bored at home. This gives me something to do while I am at home,” he said.

“I like jumping on and seeing my friends. Hearing them laugh and seeing them brings me joy. It removes negative thoughts from my head and makes me feel happy. I love seeing them. It’s like they are my family.”

According to the Program’s Advisor, Jack Wallace, the shift online has been relatively smooth, thanks to the tech-savvy participants.

“We’ve been ‘fully’ online since mid-March, but we’ve actually had an online component running in the Illawarra SLES groups for over a year now,” Jack explained. “Our participants were already familiar with online learning, which made the transition simple. We introduced them to Zoom and they took to it brilliantly. Technology has always been a strength among our young people so it comes naturally and easy to them.”

In early March, when the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) started to be felt in the community, the Northcott team in Illawarra began to notice increased levels of anxiety among participants.

“Mental health has always been at the heart of our SLES program. We believe that self care is one of the biggest strengths any young person can have. As the pandemic grew it became a talking point in our training rooms,” Jack said.

The team responded to the needs of participants by devising a flexible online program, spread over five days instead of three. The program focusses on mental health and developing domestic skills while keeping the participants connected with each other and Northcott.

“We offer social hangouts and clubs that range from having coffee to playing competitive online games together, like Fortnite. There are daily videos with quizzes to complete. We provide virtual tours of famous parts of the world, creative and mindfulness exercises and week-long research tasks. One Support Worker runs guitar lessons online, and for participants who require additional support, we provide one-on-one support in homes,” Jack said.

For Yusuf, the regular interactions with his friends and the Northcott team – plus some good habits – are keeping him in good spirits.

“As the virus has gone on, my mental health has been good. I keep occupied. I exercise, play games, stay creative and spend time online with Northcott,” he said.

“I go online every day. I don’t have a favourite activity. I enjoy doing all of it.”

Jack said participants had responded very well to the new format, with everyone engaging with the online sessions at some point during the week.

“Overall our young people are really taking charge in looking after each other. They message and comment kind things to each other, share motivational images and get excited when they see each other. In addition, we are actually seeing an increase in participation from some participants who enjoy this format more,” he added.

So what’s in store for the group in coming weeks?

“We are just getting warmed up with what we can do. We will soon offer cooking and exercise sessions online. We are adding more games to the rotation and exploring how to use Chrome Extensions to allow the participants to watch movies together. We have also organised some guest speakers to talk to the participants. One-on-one support remains a priority. We will continue to provide face-to-face support in homes where required,” Jack said.

“This has been a massive team effort. My colleagues, (Program Advisor) Stephen Reynolds, (Centre Based Coordinator) Mary Heriot and (Illawarra Area Manager) Mark Borg have all contributed to making this happen so successfully. Our Support Workers, Jess Gundlach, James Wilson and Nick Thomson, have also been amazing.”

Related content

Want to know more about how Northcott is continuing its services during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic? Visit our COVID-19 page.

If you have younger children at home, these resources recommended by our NDIS Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) team may be useful.


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