Monarch Day Programs Receive Award for Outstanding Programming During COVID-19
Monarch’s day programs were recognized for their extraordinary work during the coronavirus pandemic. The 18 programs, which serve nearly 600 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental illness and substance use disorders across North Carolina each year, collectively received the i2i Center for Integrative Health’s 2020 Connections Challenge Award in December. The award honors “an organization that was able to carry out a program or activity that resulted in an increase in social connectedness for individuals in the service system during COVID-19.”
As stay-at-home and limited gathering orders took effect this past spring, on-site services at Monarch’s day programs were temporarily suspended. “Whenever and wherever possible, we transitioned to providing individual, home-based services, but routines changed dramatically for the people we support and they experienced many emotions with those changes,” noted Christy Shavers, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Long-Term Services and Supports. “From the beginning, our day program staff were keenly aware that a sense of normalcy and connection was even more important during the pandemic. They developed creative ways to help participants engage in daily activities with each other and with program staff.”
At Monarch’s Creative Arts and Community Center (MCACC) day program in Southern Pines, the Monarch Voices choir hosted its practices virtually using video conference software. Music therapist Rachel Shell led practices twice weekly and participants continued to share their love of music despite the distance.
“We focus on having fun, singing some of our favorite songs, and gracefully laughing off the technical hiccups that come with singing virtually. We have people who are long-standing choir members and new faces as well coming together to sing,” said Bob Huber, the program’s community engagement team leader. “One of the best parts is what happens in between, and sometimes during, the songs. Someone will shout out, ‘Hey Kathleen! It’s so good to see you! I miss you! Hey friends!’ You can hear and see the smiles and uplift in spirits.”
At Monarch’s Health Drive day program in New Bern, April Judson, community engagement team leader, and her team hosted the program’s regularly scheduled bingo game virtually. Program participants joined from their homes, using bingo cards that had been mailed to them and Judson used a free, online bingo number generator to support the game. By taking this much-loved activity virtual, people supported were able to maintain part of their normal program routine.
Staff at Stanly Industrial Systems (SIS) day program in Albemarle worked individually with program participant and Monarch group home resident, Greg Terry, to produce face masks that were shared with people supported and Monarch staff. This not only gave Terry a meaningful activity to enjoy, it also helped him connect to his community through service.
As restrictions eased and small groups of participants returned to Monarch day programs, new activities inspired by the pandemic emerged. Recent art projects have included the creation of birthday, thank you and get-well cards which were delivered to caretakers and fellow program participants who have not yet been able to return to programs.
Mandy Forrester, a participant at Monarch’s Vocational Opportunities in the Community day program in Asheboro made and delivered (wearing a mask and practicing social distancing) survival kits and thank you notes for the local fire department to recognize their contributions during the pandemic. At Monarch’s River City Achievement Center day program in Elizabeth City participant Kermit Mullen created a COVID-19 word search. Individuals supported located and circled the words and reviewed what they meant. The activity went statewide and participants at other programs enjoyed an educational and fun way to talk about the pandemic.
“I am so proud of our day program staff who put the people we support first during the pandemic,” said Monarch’s President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Peggy Terhune. “Though the circumstances were challenging, they knew that it was important for people to remain connected to each other and they made that happen.”
The 2020 Connections Challenge Award was presented to Monarch’s day programs during i2i’s virtual conference in December 2020 and was accepted by Bob Huber, community engagement team leader at MCACC and program participants, Nicholas Hart and Rachel Burkhart.