NISA welcomes new leader as it opens its door to in person services again
SUDBURY -- After moving online and over the phone during the pandemic, the Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA) has reopened its doors again, although in a much smaller capacity.
"We used to see 50-to-60 people a day, sometimes as much as 80," said the new executive director Martin Boucher.
"Now we see under 10 by appointment."
In person appointments started again last Tuesday, giving some members the chance for one-on-one support visits that are anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour in length, something that officials say are crucial.
"As much as it has been supportive for all of us to be able to connect over ZOOM and connect over the phone there's kind of a depth and magic that comes from meeting someone in person," explained Kaitlyn Matson, an in-house peer support worker at NISA.
"It's been very much appreciated by anyone who's been able to come and have an appointment with us."
Throughout the pandemic, NISA started offering services over the phone and online in order to stay connected with its members.
Those services are currently still in place as the organization starts to prepare for a larger reopening in person.
However, things at the centre will look different as the pandemic continues.
"Before the pandemic you were able to just pop in and leave as you pleased, now we have a little bit more structure," said Matson.
"So you'll come in, you'll go through a process of screening - so we ask kind of the questions that you hear at a lot of different organizations. We ask that folks bring face coverings or some variety and then folks, once they go through the screening and it comes back that all is well, they can continue upstairs."
Temperature checks are also happening in the lobby before members or staff can go upstairs to the center.
Right now NISA is open by appointment only on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a focus on members who don't have access to ZOOM or the phone.
On top of being open to in-person appointments again, the organization is also welcoming new leadership.
Boucher stepped into his new role on Monday, a job that he says has been his goal to secure ever since he started at NISA.
"It's a position that's interested me for a while," he said.
"When I first came to NISA as a student, actually in 2009, I was just amazed by the work they were doing. Having been a peer myself, not having that experience of being in a space where people talk so openly about it, it was just eye opening. I could see the potential that NISA had in the community and it's always been my interest to work in a leadership role and to move onto system level mental health work."
Although a unique time to be taking on a new role, Boucher says after 7 years as a NISA employee, he is ready to take on his new title.
"I'm feeling good, I'm feeling optimistic. I've worked at this organization for quite a while now, so I know about its mission and I really believe in its mission. I'm excited to take this on,” he said.
“It's an odd time to do this, and there's going to be some unique challenges, but I think that we can face them."
Right now NISA has no public timeline on when the center will be able to open in a larger capacity and welcome back some of the groups hosted at the center.
However, Boucher says that they are looking into ways to bring more people back in person while still following public health guidelines.
He adds that NISA is ready to adjust its plans depending on the number of cases locally and what is needed to keep everyone safe.
"The first thing that I'm going to focus on is safety," he said.
"So we're in a reopening phase, we're in phase 1, we're doing a step wise reopening and people are concerned about a second wave. There might be some changes that extend for a few years even. Hopefully not closures as we've experienced, but certainly some changes in how services will be delivered over time. So my first priority is safety."
Even though the center is only opened on a small scale, staff and clients are happy about the small reopening.
"I can confidently say that all of the folks that I've met are incredibly excited to see people face-to-face again," said Matson.
"The biggest question I get is 'when are we just reopening in general? When do I get to see more people?' There's excitement and hope going forward."