03 Dec Connecting Communities: Barrie Families Unite
By: Deborah Burrows
In addition to the issues UWSM and our partners address throughout Simcoe Muskoka, we like to highlight some great organizations working in our community. Deborah Burrows, one of our volunteers and Board Directors, spoke with Nikki Glahn about her group, Barrie Families Unite. Read on to learn about the great work being done by Barrie Families Unite.
Decades ago, growing up in a small town meant you not only knew your neighbours, but cared for them and their families. Over time, towns like Barrie grew into bustling cities, and we became more busy, more guarded and less likely to connect.
When COVID-19 hit, it made gathering, helping and connecting more difficult for everyone. That’s when Barrie’s Nikki Glahn stepped up. By nature, Nikki is a gatherer of people and loves to help others. In March, when we were told to stay inside, when our kids were being schooled from home, when the fear of COVID-19 was at its peak with no one knowing where it was or how sick it could make us, Nikki was concerned with the impact that this new form of isolation and confusion would have on people. With some trepidation, she launched the Barrie Families Unite (BFU) group on Facebook. Within 3 to 4 days, it had 4,000 members. By word of mouth, the group has grown to just shy of 11,000 local members.
The number of members isn’t what’s remarkable, however. It’s what this online community of members does. During the first week of managing the forum when COVID-19 started shutting down services, Nikki saw that people were quickly falling through the cracks. Single mothers who couldn’t get to the Food Bank, for example, were struggling to feed their children. Nikki used the power of grassroots connections to help those in need.
A lot happens organically where the BFU team don’t get involved – they let neighbours help neighbours directly. Sometimes BFU admins will post anonymous requests looking for members who might be able to help a family with food, children’s clothing, and medical devices. Barrie residents continually rise to the challenge, often with more members than needed rushing in to help. In fact, the team is often thanked by these ‘helpers’ for giving them a rare gift – the gift of feeling helpful and making an impact on others during such a stressful time.
Today, the BFU team is well versed in what programs Barrie offers to help those in need and how they have changed their service models to increase safety and access. For example, the Barrie Food Bank now delivers!
One service that the forum facilitators often refer people to is Community Connections 211 Central East Ontario. United Way Simcoe Muskoka has been a proud funder of 211 Central East for 15 years. This vital service connects thousands of Simcoe Muskoka residents to community resources they need but might not know exist. In fact, UWSM created the Urgent Needs Fund with 211 Central East managing client intake to address those crises that current programs cannot meet and that require immediate attention. It has led to positive outcomes for those experiencing homelessness, seniors lacking urgent medical care and families facing hunger. We are thankful that the BFU is an advocate of 211 and has been a positive force in connecting people with programs and much needed help from the community.
For anyone looking for assistance, 211 is just a phone call or click away, either by dialing 2-1-1 on your phone or visiting 211ontario.ca. Residents in Barrie and the surrounding area can also visit Information Barrie for resources available in the city.
Another way that BFU spreads goodness is by being one space in the community where there is no negativity. Nikki and her team set clear ground rules from the beginning. The volunteer team of moderators and administrators work hard to keep the forum positive. Negatively is not allowed, neither is senseless debate, judgemental statements or shaming. One can expect nothing but help, information on programs and new health-related measures, inspiring pictures and comments, and uplifting experiences – all vetted before being shared with follow-up comments moderated to ensure kindness.
Kudos to Nikki and her volunteer BFU team for fostering Local Love in Barrie, an example that UWSM is proud to share.
To read more about Nikki and to learn how Barrie Families Unite is evolving to meet seasonal needs, please find the complete interview here.
About the author
Deborah Burrows is a business consultant and executive coach. She volunteers her time on United Way Simcoe Muskoka’s Board of Directors and External Relations Committee.