Coping with COVID-19: Jo Austin

As part of our ongoing series, we speak with Jo Austin, children’s support worker at Hampton Park UCA.

How has your work been affected by the lockdowns?

My outreach work is very much a hands-on, face-to-face ministry, with a weekly community lunch and food relief run out of the church, playgroup and fortnightly Messy Church-type community called FEAST (Families Eating And Sharing Together). This face-to-face engagement has obviously had to cease.

How have you responded?

I’ve learnt to use Zoom and we are now having FEAST every Sunday afternoon for 40 minutes with families connecting in using Zoom. I have had to think creatively about how to make this interactive and engage the children and adults in meaningful ways which also incorporate hands-on activities.

This is still evolving and what I am doing is pretty basic, but families are engaging. We are also having playgroup meet up on Zoom, including parent-only meet-ups to share ideas to keep children busy during this time.

Along with this there is the usual phone calls to keep in touch with families and identify any needs. As a church we have moved to a drive-through collection of food when it is needed.

What do you most want to preserve or focus on during this period?

I want to maintain as much of a sense of normalcy as possible by continuing with our programs through online platforms, thus providing an ongoing routine and rhythm to the week and continued connection for families.

What is most challenging?

Knowing there are some families where this is going to put extra pressure on already vulnerable and volatile home situations, and that there are some sole parents who are not going to get a second of a break, which is hard going mentally as well as physically.

Has there been any positives to come out of this?

In some ways we are getting to know each other personally in a different way. When using video conferencing, we are often entering each other’s homes. I was taken on a virtual tour of a playgroup family’s home, our FEAST group were taken to one of the children’s bedrooms to see a Lego creation, and everyone is getting to meet my dog.

Adults and children also seem to be taking more initiative in contributing to and sharing at meet-up, such as bringing art work or sharing songs that are meaningful to them or making suggestions of ways we can connect. This has been an unexpected positive outcome.

Do you have any ideas or advice from your experience to share with others?

Just have a go! There’s nothing to lose by trying out new technology or creative ideas you or your team have. There will be mistakes, there might be bumpy starts and maybe some things just won’t work, but sometimes things will be brilliant and lead beyond where you expected.

It’s worth having a go in order to maintain relationships and continue to nurture each other’s spirit amongst our faith communities and those to whom our communities minister.

In this time of challenge and for many distress, do you have a personal message or faith reflection that you would like to share?

In the book of Ecclesiastes we read that “for everything there is a season and a time”, this time, which in our wildest imagination we couldn’t have imagined, is just a season and will pass. God promises to be with us always and we don’t have to look far to see evidence of His presence in our community and in nature. It’s going to get harder, but I believe keeping our eyes open to God’s presence can help us through.

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