Opinion: Vulnerable women in Burnaby weathering COVID-19 storm

As it has for many others, COVID-19 presented new challenges for the staff, board, and women of Charlford House Society for Women in Burnaby.

In the past couple of weeks, the health guidelines have become stricter each day. Visitors are no longer allowed, which limits our volunteer numbers and means our alumnae can no longer come home as they used to. Some staff had to start working from home, including myself, the Administrative Assistant. We had to reconsider how to handle intakes and discharges, and our upcoming fundraising events were cancelled.

Until recently, I had been optimistic and enjoying the sunny weather, ready to embrace the energy of the spring. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I suddenly did not feel hopeful or prepared to take on the new season.

I felt anxious, depressed, and terrified, not just for myself but for the negative financial and mental health effects this could have on my friends and family. I especially worried for the friends I made through Charlford House, wondering if the intense isolation, including the closure of NA and AA resource centres, could cause those newer to recovery to relapse.

However, I soon started seeing video chat recovery meetings popping up. I was surprised when my friends started sending me invitations to them, even though I’m not an addict.

When I joined one, I was overwhelmed by the number of smiling familiar faces on my phone screen, all happy to have me there as an “honourary Peach”. I realized not only are my friends in recovery still surrounded by support in this time of uncertainty, but so am I by those same women. In my time working here, they’ve fully welcomed me as one of their own, and they weren’t about to let me go through this alone.

A resounding reminder of “Just for today”, a common addictions recovery mantra, echoed throughout the video call.

I realized then I should be facing this pandemic the same way my friends face their recovery: one day at a time. I still didn’t know how long this would last, but I knew I had a group of women to lean on, even when I couldn’t see them in person.

Despite the many changes in the past few weeks, the women of Charlford House remain energetic, warm, and hopeful. A consistent beacon of light in a difficult time, Charlford House upholds the love and compassion it’s known for, even through unforeseen challenges. I don’t know when I’ll return to my office there, but I know I will one day soon.

With 50 years of experience supporting women, it’s clear that Charlford House is capable of continuing to offer a sense of home to staff and alumnae alike, regardless of physical limitations.

I’m confident this will be an opportunity for us to explore new ways of connecting our women, fundraising, and engaging our supporters. We’ll come out even stronger in the end. As we face this one day at a time, we will continue to save lives, one woman at a time.

Now more than ever, we need your support. Please consider making a donation to Charlford House by visiting charlfordhouse.ca/donate. Donations over $20 will receive a tax receipt.

Vivian Gietz is a staff member at Charlford House in Burnaby.

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