By Ahmed Badrawy, CCEC Communications Assistant
The Community Engagement Professional that we are highlighting this month is Lynn Gidluck, a dedicated and passionate community champion and researcher working in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Lynn is the Community Director for the Community Research Unit (soon to be renamed the Community Engagement and Research Centre) at the University of Regina. She holds an interdisciplinary PhD focused on funding policies in the non-profit sector. She is also co-lead for the western hub of the Canadian Philanthropy Partnership network (fundersinthewest) and is a member of the CCEC steering committee.
Prior to recent COVID-19 events, one of her responsibilities with the University of Regina was to offer a series of workshops that aimed to help organizations and individuals working in the community develop a variety of skills ranging from advertising and communications to managing finances. People who attend these sessions typically work for organizations that do not have budgets that provide opportunity for training.
As Lynn describes, “The sessions included topics such as ‘How to advertise on Facebook’ and how to communicate effectively with Indigenous peoples.’ People signed up for the sessions to not only benefit from knowledge being shared but also to network and meet new people.”
In response to community concerns related to the pandemic, the community advisory committee that works with Lynn on these professional development sessions decided to experiment with an online coffee discussion series they titled “Coping During Troubled Times.” Each session ran for an hour with a 20-minute presentation on a common community issue followed by a 40-minute group discussion to exchange ideas and solutions. For example, one of the sessions was titled ‘Optimize Remote Teamwork – Top Keys to Success!’ which focused on finding ways to maintain and lead effective teamwork through virtual communication.
How has COVID-19 changed your working environment and the ways you assist the communities around you?
“To be honest, I am still trying to work my way through that. One of the programs I run at the University of Regina is the Arts Internship Program and it’s designed to help students gain experience in the workplace to add to their resume. We also provide research based organizations grants to do community based research. But how do you do community-engaged work virtually? We have to learn how to do things differently. It is challenging us to think outside the box and do things differently.”
What was it like to be a part of the COVID-19 Coffee sessions?
“People who stayed for the discussion sessions after the webinars seemed to genuinely enjoy the chance to connect with people in the breakout rooms–learning from each other ways to cope with the drastically changed way of working the pandemic created for us.”
How was the feedback from the sessions?
You know going into it, I was kind of reluctant, I didn’t know what to expect. Our organizing team was very happy with the response though! What surprised me is that half the people who signed up for the sessions were organizations we didn’t reach out to before. We always send short evaluation surveys to attendees after our sessions…and we got great feedback . I still prefer face-to-face engagement (and I think many people in our community feel the same way), but people seemed to appreciate our effort to not suspend our programming due to the physical distancing restrictions. Attendance rates were way higher than we expected and we will definitely continue to experiment with virtual tools like Zoom in the future.”
How has your experience with CCEC been so far?
“Oh it’s been amazing!… I was invited to join the CCEC steering committee last year and it has been very gratifying to work with people from across the country to try to increase the national dialogue around the importance of post-secondary institutions working in partnership with communities to increase community-driven collaboration and to develop equitable structures for community-campus engagement and learn from each other. I am convinced that we can contribute to positive social change if we bring people together to share knowledge, experience and resources.”
Community-campus engagement practices have to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Initiatives like the University of Regina’s virtual coffee sessions show that despite the inability to come together physically, communities can still connect, engage, and solve common issues together.
As Lynn notes, “My goal is to always let the community drive everything that I’m doing. If I have an idea, I want to make sure that it’s something that’s going to benefit the community.”