By Matthew Beutel, as appeared in the Lowertown ECHO newspaper
As is everybody these days, we at the Lowertown Community Resource Centre (LCRC) have been thrown for a loop by the COVID-19 crisis. All of our programs have been affected one way or another. While some, like our after-school activities, have been temporarily halted, others are considered essential services, so we plough ahead with adjustments in alignment with guidelines from Ottawa Public Health and the other two levels of government.
Our counselors remain available on a drop-in basis for people in vulnerable situations. They reach hundreds of residents by phone to check in on their well-being and to offer a helping hand (or a sympathetic ear). Our youth workers are carrying out phone outreach with families and are offering support with schoolwork. Some of our activities, such as the food bank at the Community House at 45 Beausoleil St., are rolling on more than ever. And we couldn’t make sure that households in need have access to healthy food without the contribution of our invaluable volunteers…like Michel (Mike) Joanisse and Estelle Séguin.
For over 40 years, Estelle has been a Lowertowner—she raised her kids here. Her husband, Bob, has two children from a prior marriage and together they have four grandchildren. She has been a volunteer at the Community House since it first opened its doors 25 years ago. One of her friends was the coordinator and helped start the food bank. She asked Estelle if she would volunteer and the rest is history!
“I love Lowertown. It’s where I live. I want to be here to serve people. I like folks and I like being at the Community House…you make friends…it becomes a family.”
Mike has been a Lowertowner for 15 years. One day outside the Community House, Estelle stopped him and convinced him to try volunteering. Seven years later and he’s still there! “Mike’s a great guy! He’s always trying to make us laugh. And he often has good ideas for how to improve the programming.”
Estelle shares this can-do philosophy. “The people who come to the food bank are shy…we put them at ease”, she states. “I was once told ‘If it wasn’t or you, I wouldn’t come back!’ They’re everyday folks, like you and me. It gives me such a good feeling.”
The Community House is a haven for many. Estelle describes it as having “just the right mix: respect, love, confidentiality, and good listening (which I sometimes find hard because I love to chat!).”
Mike’s mom lives in a care home and can only pay her infrequent visits these days and from the other side of a window, at that. He finds it tough but as he says, “We are all in this together. We have no choice.”
The COVID-19 crisis has meant that Estelle has had to stop coming to the Community House the past couple of weeks. She is considered at risk since she had a serious operation in the last year. However, she still finds a way to contribute: we were able to set her up with a laptop at home from where she can do some data entry for the food bank. Still, there’s nothing quite like welcoming folks in person and getting to chat. It’s this resourcefulness and shared will that are hallmarks of the LCRC. In an exasperated voice, she says, “I can’t stand this! I can’t wait for it to be over!”
You and us all, Estelle, you and us all! A BIG thank you to you, to Mike and to all of our staff and volunteers.