Social isolation due to the protracted COVID-19 lockdown was especially challenging for young Victorians who were already experiencing adversity. In June 2020, Australia’s most well-known mental health organisation, Beyond Blue, reported an increase of 47% in call volumes compared to the same time in the previous year. Edmund Rice Camps Vic (ERCV) identified a critical need to continue delivering programs to ensure connection and social and intellectual growth.

With the support of ERFA, ERCV developed two innovative online programs that ran concurrently across 4 – 8 weeks via a 1-hour weekly Zoom session. The programs delivered the ERCV cornerstone of 1:1 participant to volunteer mentor relationships with engaging and playful activities that reduced social isolation for 48 participants aged 8-15 years old, with the support of 24 volunteers.

Elise Moloney-Morton, volunteer with the ERCV online connection program says “To my surprise, it wasn’t chaotic at all and the kids were engaged and obsessed with the games…I’ve learnt there’s a lot of games you can play on Zoom!”

Volunteer, Miranda Koroknai, reflected on the value and change she witnessed: “Being able to see the growth in confidence from week one to week four was incredible. Not only were the kids more confident around each other, but their Zoom skills improved and they were more confident to be involved in activities as family units. By the end of the program, participants were so keen to attend the sessions, they took us with them in the car”.

The programs delivered a range of long-lasting benefits including development of social skills as well as greater competency with online technology. ERCV staff and volunteers also developed new skills in virtual programming and, as another volunteer Mariella Berry commented, “it excites me to think how we can use these online platforms to further connections with our participants in the future even when in-person camps return”

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