Tillsonburg Senior Centre administrator Nancy Boutin and program coordinator Niki Kamps have not yet become YouTube sensations, but videos posted to social media over the last five weeks or so have been a big hit among Senior Centre members.
“We had a Facebook page before all this happened, but we didn’t have a YouTube channel and I really didn’t know the first thing about editing videos, or making movies, or how-to instructionals,” said Boutin. “But we had to do something.”
It took about a week to adjust to the new reality in March, learning the Centre would remain closed for some time.
“I didn’t foresee it going on as long as it has and I didn’t really know what to do after we stopped our programs. But then again, no one knew. So once I had a chance to get my feet under me, I thought, ‘sink or swim.'”
Boutin and Kamps, who have both been working at their homes, launched a series of online programming, uploading videos inspired by programs that traditionally happened at the Centre, and also coming up with ideas of what members might enjoy watching and be able to do themselves at home with whatever supplies they might have.
“We are trying to do stuff that does not require many trips to the store, or things you might be able to order online, or things you might just have kicking around your house,” said Boutin.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic closure, Boutin had been teaching a monthly cooking class at the Senior Centre.
“It’s just a way for me to get away from my desk and sort of commune with our members a little bit, and it’s gotten to be really popular. They always sell out, they always fill up. People pay for a year’s worth of classes in advance. It’s fantastic.”
Cooking at home, she decided to film a ‘random making dinner’ video. As she developed her video editing skills, she started adding titles, credits and music, and the overall quality of ‘What’s Cooking with Nancy’ improved.
“People seemed to really like it.”
She also tried recipes that were ‘going viral’ (extremely popular) on social media. For example, recipes that do not use sugar or eggs. Lemon ice box pie… mixed bean salad… chocolate depression cake… hearty beef stew.
“People have really, really enjoyed them.”
Instructional videos have included making wind chimes and art for the garden. Two weeks ago they did faux stained art glass using glue and food colouring. Other videos were done on sewing a basic face mask, dot painted mandala, and helping urban wildlife. As of Monday, 17 videos had been posted to the Tillsonburg Senior Centre YouTube channel.
“I’ve done videos on tips for sleeping well in times of stress, how to use essential oils for stress and relaxation. Really, it runs the gamut.
“Niki has a list of projects that she’s working on at home, too,” said Boutin. “She does some gardening and she’s made a bird feeder. Right now, she’s trying to master soft pretzels at home, which are apparently harder than they look.
“Every day I try to communicate with our members by a group email ‘blast’ in which I will say ‘here’s what’s coming up this week, and here’s some websites you might find interesting. We have posted some websites that are offering free online learning right now because of what’s going on with Covid. I’ve published scads and scads of links to really neat YouTube channels that they might enjoy, that I’m sure they probably might not have found on their own travels.”
They also ask a Question of the Day, which can be something relevant to current events, or something a bit more random (eg. What’s your all-time favourite TV show and why?).
“Just trying to keep communication going with them in whatever way we can.”
Boutin estimated about half of the members had an email on file at the Centre, and about half of that number were comfortable using Facebook and YouTube via Smart phones or tablets. Those numbers are changing, however.
“There have been a number of folks who are now getting into new technologies,” she noted, citing her own parents as an example, helping them set up Facebook, Zoom and Skype.
“It’s hard though because everyone is using different ‘tech.'”
As more people have adopted new video-chat technology, the Centre started a weekly ‘Coffee Break’ on Wednesday mornings.
“Anyone from our membership can join. There’s usually between four and eight of us, depending on the day. We just sit for an hour, have coffee, talk and just catch up.”
The Senior Centre has also reached to people who are not online.
“Niki, the program coordinator, that has been one of her jobs,” said Boutin. “She actually called every person on our membership list who did not have an email registered with us and checked in just to see how they were doing. It took her days to get through the list – full props to her because it was a humongous project.
“It wasn’t just a case of us calling… people wanted to talk. The really good thing we learned by doing that is that a lot of our folks are so fortunate because they do have good support systems. Nobody was sitting in an apartment with no way to get groceries, nobody that was sick and needing medicine because they couldn’t get to the pharmacy. They all seemed to have really good support systems, either through family or friends or neighbours.
“We actually started a volunteer calling program.”
Initially, they had about 5-6 members who volunteered to make the calls.
“But we actually had more volunteers to do the calling than people who wanted calls. So I’m taking that as a good thing. It means that everybody is feeling they are getting enough contact with other people in other ways.”
Now that Ontario is entering ‘Phase 1’ of re-opening, and talking about Phase 2 and Phase 3, the light may be shining at the end of the current Covid-19 pandemic – at least in our area.
But until that time arrives, the Senior Centre will continue to publish content for its members.
“Every week is sort of fluid,” said Boutin. “I have to try to balance my day between generating that content for our members – the fun, artistic, creative videos – and doing the normal book-keeping stuff that is the lion’s share of my job, daily. Things from the government, to keep us operating, those are not things that you can just put aside.
“I think my longest video was 19 minutes – an instructional video – and it took like two-and-a-half hours to upload. And using a tiny iPad, you can’t use your screen for anything else while it’s uploading. Lessons learned. So, learned a lot about new programs, thankful for the new skills, but desperate, desperate to get back to work here and get things back opened up. And I don’t know when that will be or how it will look.”
Online cooking seems like it will continue, she said, as well as crafting.
“I had a couple people make suggestions… asking how to do a manicure and keep your hands looking nice. They give me some feedback too. I think we’ll continue with our daily question, too. Some days people are lukewarm to the questions, some days I have to spend an hour reading emails.
“We are getting such great feedback from our members on everything we are doing. They are very appreciative, they love the videos. They try the videos, they try to the recipes, which is cool. So I think they are in general in a good mindset. I think everybody is just in the same boat right now, and that helps. Everybody is going by feel and flying by the seat of their pants.”