The current pandemic has caused many events to fall by the wayside, but one annual event that has survived is the Prince Edward Learning Centre Annual General Meeting. Though PELC conducted their meeting online, the scope and breadth of this annual affair was not diminished.
“I can’t start reporting without talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and how that’s affected us all,” began PELC Executive Director, Kathy Kennedy. “We are still figuring out what that will mean for the future of PELC, but one thing it’s taught us for sure is that we that we are connected in a world wide way. We are vulnerable and resilient.”
Kennedy further stated that PELC’s ability to do their work is made possible by leadership that’s trusted and collaboration within the community.
Like many local non-profits and businesses alike, the effects of COVID-19 were immediate, with County residents now living in a brave, new, often online world.
“The impacts of COVID-19 were immediate and challenged us to move our programs and services online in a big hurry, just like I’m sure other people have,” Kennedy reflected. “We changed everything, from payroll to intake assessments and training.”
Apart from learning how to interact effectively online using Zoom, Kennedy explained that PELC Staff also began doing porch visits, wherein staff would have a physically distanced visit with students who they would normally be in routine contact with. Staff would take books from the County Kids Read program, grocery cards and also cookies that said “we miss you” to students at their homes.
Kennedy noted PELC Staff are happy to see students return as their own children are off to school and are also grateful for those who were able to stay in touch virtually.
PELC has three main programming streams: Literacy and Essential Skills, Inspire (a youth employment program) and a third stream that focuses on helping people remain in school and the basis, as Kennedy noted, is helping to stabilize people’s incomes and increase their assets. The last stream is made possible through their financial empowerment and community volunteer income tax program.
“We also conduct that stabilization work through food advocacy and food security,” stated Kennedy. “We’ve had great community support form both those programs, from the Hub Family Fund, The County Foundation, and the municipality through some emergency benefit funding as well.”
The Literacy and Basic Skills contingent of PELC has drawn in approximately 120 students per year who work in a variety of different streams, such as college preparation and developing skills for life.
“Everything we do-at our core- is working with adults to develop competencies and skills in ways they choose,” she said.
Pre-pandemic, a lot of classroom work revolved around group activities alongside individual learning plans.
“We had some pretty interesting and varied group activities, including guitar classes with Kat Burns and a very robust civics program led by Jonah Schein, prior to the federal election,” Kennedy explained.
When the pandemic hit, PELC’s Financial Empowerment Program had just geared up. Ultimately, the centre filed taxes for 315 individuals, resulting in over $900,000 in both benefits and tax refunds.
14 volunteers worked with staff member Ellis Greenberg to help people file online.
“It was actually a pretty exciting pivot, figuring out how to file on Zoom or teach people on Zoom how to file taxes themselves,” said Kennedy.
With regard to food programs, Kennedy excitedly announced the launch of their PEC Fresh Good Food Market.
“The market is funded as one of 15 projects across Canada to look at the effect of providing nutritious food to people with low incomes,” said Kennedy. “We’re excited to be part of a national research project but also to have support from local groups working with food insecurity like the Food Collective.
Kennedy noted the market evolved out of a food policy class that focused on local food systems and exploring routes for positive change. Apart from the market, she added that Prince Edward County Council have recently acted on a request for a local food strategy that was put forth as a result of this class.
“I think the core of that started with the Food for Learning Program. We received some funding with the Hastings and District School Board to support our adult students and make sure we have nutritious snacks and lunches available,” she explained.
PELC also hosted a community garden this year and conducted a program called Cooking Counts, wherein students were taught cooking along with functional literacy and math.
Despite adapting to the changes brought on by COVID-19, Kennedy noted that those in the literacy world are not entirely sure how that will translate to an almost entirely online world.
“One thing the community of literacy programs is continuing to think through is what does it mean to be a community literacy program in a nearly virtual world,” she explained. “Everyday, we’re thinking about how our programs need to respond and change”