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News (Noticias)

Creating Connections from a Distance: Mill Levy-Funded Initiatives Shift to Distance Learning

Like so many businesses and programs, Jovial Concepts found itself faced with some difficult challenges when the COVID-19 crisis emerged in Colorado.

Jovial, which cultivates life and work skills through garden-based programming, quickly pivoted to keep participants safe by ensuring they were socially distant and took other precautions, including sanitizing tools. Jovial is one of the many programs funded through RMHS with Denver mill levy dollars that is finding ways to continue to deliver services during these challenging times.

Jovial aims to provide job training while cultivating life and work skills for transitioning students through gardening and cooking. The nonprofit manages 67 gardens across metro Denver.

Before the stay-at-home order, Jovial hosted a program for students to learn life skills and gardening through experience in the residential gardens that help feed underserved communities. Students with IDD were taught gardening along with valuable life skills such as cooking their own lunch.

“We have an awesome community center. Our volunteers come here to learn rather than learning online,” said Kristina Welch Executive Director at Jovial Concepts. The student gardeners rely on the lunch section in the program to keep them active and learn basic life skills like cooking. The classes are done in mainly in person but have changed during the stay-at-home orders.

Managing Change

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jovial had to cancel the lunch section of its program. While Jovial continues to host garden volunteers to tend to the gardens with more restrictions, volunteer groups have been reduced to include only groups of people who live together. To reduce further risk, Jovial implemented safe practices and guidelines which include social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing tools after use, assigning tools to students and assigning gloves.

The lack of classes is taking a toll on individuals who rely on them for interaction and to learn life skills. Students can still visit the gardens but not as frequently as before.

Jovial is mainly focusing on feeding vulnerable communities struggling during COVID-19 using funds from the USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program. Jovial serves communities 800 meals a week with food from their garden program. Volunteers follow safe practices to serve meals to these families.

Move to Online

Welch is planning to move content like cooking classes and gardening videos online to reach students who are missing the garden. Although Welch prefers in-person interaction, online engagement has its positives as well.

“Everyone learns differently. I think these digital platforms will be useful in the long run,” Welch said about the long-term changes this time may create on the future of the online program. “It is sometimes easier to go back and watch a video than to keep repeating the same lesson.”

Jovial Concepts plans to collaborate with Financial Health Institute to create online curriculum for its classes.

Man working at a computer

Financial Health Institute

Financial Health Institute (FHI), a mill levy partner that teaches Financial Health and employment training to I/DD students, case managers and parents, has years of experience in creating blended learning curriculum through its ResourceAbility Online Learning Environment. ResourceAbility is moving all its classes to a distance learning format and continues to help other organizations create online curriculum.

FHI uses its design expertise to help organizations create an interactive, blended learning curriculum. The organizations receive access to a resource library of FHI content through ResourceAbility.

Leaders at FHI reached out to Mill Levy Program Development Specialist Abby Grinstead, to offer services to other mill levy partners during the pandemic.

“We want to fill the gap COVID-19 created between these organizations and their customers,“ said Joanne McLain, Director of Curriculum Development and Research at FHI. The stay-at-home orders created challenges for all mill levy-funded initiatives and forced the need to quickly adjust how many of the programs are offered. FHI faced similar challenges and offered its services to ensure Denver individuals and families can access the innovative programs and services offered by organizations like Jovial.

Expanding Support

FHI recently collaborated with mill levy partners Access Gallery and Jovial Concepts to create blended learning content online during the pandemic. This effort creates another way for these organizations to reach clients.

Access Gallery is a nonprofit that engages the community by opening doors to creative, educational and economic arts opportunities for adults with I/DD. FHI helped Access to engage in online art projects at host homes and day programs. The project pairs mentor artists with people in the IDD community for projects to do at home.

Other Initiatives from Mill Levy Partners

Other mill levy partners also have been resourceful in creating ways to reach their networks. Below are more examples of partners adapting in creative and fun ways

Wayfaring Band, an organization that provides support, builds awareness and fosters genuine connection among diverse communities through education, socialization and transformative travel, began virtual events for its network. One of the events was a virtual talent show on April 17. Every week they offer one artist salon per week at 3 p.m. on Thursdays.

Parent to Parent Colorado, a nonprofit that offers training for parents who want to learn the skills necessary to support other parents, is providing online training to support positive behaviors. The group also offers support to parents.

Tennyson Center for Children, a nonprofit that provides services for designed for children with I/DD who are survivors of trauma, abuse or neglect, implemented distance learning for its students. Tennyson donated Chromebooks and hotspots to people who did not have the resources to participate.

Connect Us, nonprofit that fosters social inclusion, supports friendship building and teaches leadership skills for re-school and elementary-age youth, has been practicing remote, age-based social groups with kids in grades kindergarten through 12th and parents. The “zoom friendship groups” create a place for collaborating and support via Zoom Meetings.

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