Many Struggle To
These five companies found ways to help us support each other through a challenging time in history.
It’s been a tough two years all around, but in any bad situation, you can look and find the people who are doing good amidst it all. Whether it’s organizations like Hülpr who found a way to care for and combat isolation for those most at risk, or stores designed to make it easier for people to shop local and support those in their community, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of finding ways to help one another through it. Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box and getting creative, like the Art Gallery of Northumberland offering virtual programming and at-home art kits to provide a creative outlet when it was needed most, or the Capitol Theatre finding resourceful ways to re-unite artists with live audiences. Over the past two years, we’ve been forced to determine what’s important to us and the resounding answer here is that the silver-lining is in the people, relationships and support that forged their way through a challenging time to keep us all connected.
Arts & Culture
Appreciating various forms of art is often described as an enriching experience, so it’s no wonder that societies grounded in the arts tend to have enriched communities. Picturesque Northumberland County hails as home to two historical treasures: The Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Ont. and the Art Gallery of Northumberland (AGN) in Cobourg, Ont. which debuted in 1930 and 1960 respectively.
While both organizations felt the strain of the pandemic and had to find ways to adapt and reconfigure, both are coming out on top with a renewed sense of appreciation, both for their place within the community, and for their community itself.
As a popular tourist destination, the Capitol’s artistic producer Rob Kempson says, “We are an anchor business that brings tourists to the region and populate our restaurants and shops and hotels, and we’re so thrilled to be able to support our community in that way, but it’s also about the richness of the community itself. Not just bringing in people from afar, but actually finding those really strong connections with the people who live and work with us.”
Whether you look at the volunteers who have been with the Capitol for more than 25 years or hear of patrons who had their very first date in the original cinema and now bring their grandchildren to the theatre’s holiday production, those stories really reflect how the Capitol is woven into the heartbeat of the community. “We are about sharing stories, we are about creating memories, and we are about making connections,” says Kempson, “And those three pillars are really who we are as an organization.”
In order to stay connected, organizations had to get creative and at a time when people couldn’t access supplies that weren’t deemed essential, the AGN created Art-To-Go kits that were tailored for kids of all ages, and to the curriculum to aid students, teachers and parents alike. As Olinda Casimiro, the AGN’s executive director says, “When you engage with art, you’re also promoting well-being and creating that space or that niche for social connection. It’s really what we’re all about.”
When it was difficult to find safe places for artists to perform live for an audience, the Capitol introduced “Under The Marquee” — an event that saw the street closed for guests to enjoy live music. This community-focused event encouraged attendees to support a local restaurant (The Social Bar + Table) and dine at their reserved table in front of the theatre, or get a general admission ticket to listen without dining.
Of course many events were still cancelled or postponed for both, but both Kempson and Casimiro echoed that as busy organizations, it’s easy to get caught up in planning for tomorrow rather than the long-term, and both felt the silver-lining that came out of the pandemic was the time and opportunity it provided to reflect on who they are as an organization, what they provide to the community, and what they want to focus on moving forward.
Both organizations have exciting plans ahead and are looking forward to experiencing them alongside the people that mean so much to them. “We have this wonderful collection and this beautiful space,” says Casimiro, “But you know what? We’re nothing without people; they are our most important asset. Our community is so generous with their time and their conversation. The engagement piece there is so inspiring, and when a whole community can engage with what you’re trying to do and the messaging you’re delivering, plus the supporting of artists, that’s amazing. Then you know the work that you’re doing is meaningful and can grow. I just love the people here.”
The pandemic has been eye-opening in many ways, thankfully with many positives mixed in amongst the negative. “We’ve really seen how important the Capitol is to the residents of Port Hope, Cobourg and Northumberland County at large. Those people have never waivered.” […] says Kempson. “We have the best audiences in the world and they’re sticking with us through this pandemic and that, I think, is the most beautiful piece. It’s the dream of any arts organization, but particularly during a pandemic to have that unwavering support from the community is huge.”
“We are about sharing stories, we are about creating memories, and we are about making connections,” says Kempson. “And those three pillars are really who we are as an organization.”
When it comes to providing the utmost level of care for those in their community, the team at Hülpr are as passionate as they come. Kingston, Ont.-based Hülpr (prounounced “Helper”) is a niche transportation service tailored to those that need a little extra help (more than a taxi provides, but not a private ambulance). But calling them a transportation service does them a disservice because they do so much more than merely transport clients. As a team comprised of many retired healthcare professionals and those with careers in the service industry, they’re on a mission to enable people to age well at home and in the communities that mean so much to them.
Having recently launched with their current business model in January of 2021, Hülpr is now helping a large variety of people within the community. And as co-founder and CEO Tim O’Hara says, “The best thing about Hülpr is we help not just the client, we’re also helping the agencies, the caregivers, the families, the loved ones. And we’re linking with a lot of different support agencies throughout Ontario right now. We work with ODSP, Veterans Affairs, Indigenous Affairs, and a lot of the social workers at the actual hospitals and clinics and our services and name is getting out there and growing.”
During a time when many felt more isolated, Hülpr has been there to provide vital homecare, medical appointment accompaniment, companionship and more. “There’s a ton of increasing societal problems and what I’ve heard many times over is that the business of the future doesn’t have a social responsibility tab on their website, or a social responsibility arm, but rather that is the foundation and the core of the business,” says co-founder and COO Jonathan Ladha. “My favourite part about Hülpr is the fact that our very business is solving big societal problems related to people aging in place the way they want to. It isn’t a section — it is what we do.”
Of the thousands of rides that they do, many are repeat clients on high frequency appointments such as dialysis and as O’Hara says, “When you have to go to the hospital three or four times a week, having somebody that you trust and are comfortable with on that journey and on that drive is incredibly important.”
Their goal is to be more than just a ride. They want clients to feel like friends and family. Whether it’s by ensuring their favourite music is playing, engaging in meaningful conversation, or simply providing respect and human connection, Hülpr is caring for the community one ride at a time.
Many small businesses have struggled to stay afloat amidst the pandemic, but the call to support local has been heard and we’re seeing a shift in consumer trends as many are choosing to support smaller, local companies over the big-box stores. Whether their aim is to shop more sustainably, opt for natural alternatives, discover unique products, receive better customer service, or simply help their community, today’s consumers are becoming more community-conscious and we’re here for it!
To aid in this, businesses like Markets Ontario (Markets) and Urban Market Oshawa (URBN MRKT) offer one-stop shops to bring the best goods from local makers together in single, convenient locations.
With locations in Bowmanville and Pickering, Ont., Markets features artisanal home goods, food, clothing and more from more than 150 local vendors. And URBN MRKT, dubbed “an elevated farmers’ market experience,” is located in downtown Oshawa and features some of the region’s finest vendors amongst their diverse array of cuisine and goods.
Supporting local entrepreneurs has never been easier, and as people re-think what they value and how they spend their money, we hope the shop local movement is here to stay.
SHOP LOCAL – SUPPORT LOCAL
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