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How one Concordia grad started a COVID-19 senior-support movement

It's easy, says Grace Sebeh Byrne: ‘Check in on your neighbours!’
March 30, 2020
By Molly Hamilton

Do you know of a great COVID-19 community initiative? Please tell us, so we can share the news with Concordians:

Grace_Sebeh_Byrne Grace Sebeh Byrne, BA 86

As Montreal braces for a prolonged COVID-19 shutdown — complete with physical distancing — neighbours are finding creative ways to pitch in.

From free emergency food baskets to wellness check-ins, the Concordia community has quickly mobilized to provide aid and inspire hope. In fact, one intrepid alum started a scaled-down movement in her own backyard.

“My mom lived in a residence before she passed away and I saw that isolation is a huge demoralizer,” says Grace Sebeh Byrne, BA 86.

This experience inspired her to start the Coronation Block Assistance Group in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

“I just couldn’t help but think about the elderly people on our block. We have seven houses with elderly people who are, for the most part, alone. That just really, really tugged at my heart and I was really worried for them.”

As the co-founder and executive director of Yellow Pad Sessions, an arts and culture non-profit, Sebeh Byrne has seen a decline in her work since the coronavirus prompted shelter-in-place orders across Quebec and Canada. So she used her spare time to draw up pamphlets announcing the Coronation Block Assistance Group’s services and distributed them to every home on her block.

“Nine people reached out and everybody gave me — by email — a list of everything they could offer, like shopping, cooking, driving, that sort of thing,” she says.


Sebeh Byrne created a WhatsApp group to facilitate communication, a spreadsheet to organize tasks and called on volunteers to choose one of the seven elderly neighbours to periodically call and check in on.

The initiative was put to the test last Friday, March 27, when the block lost power.

“People responded on WhatsApp and called the seniors on our list to check in on them,” Sebeh Byrne says. “People were very thankful and expressed gratitude that they were not alone and had someone to turn to.”

So far, the Coronation Block Assistance Group has also provided a microwave and a 1,000-piece puzzle for donation.

“I’m just hoping other people will do this,” says Sebeh Byrne. “We can’t rely on the municipality, the police, you know, all these people, they’re busy enough. I think if everybody just checks in on their neighbours, especially the elders, I think that’s the compassionate thing to do.”

Within the Concordia community, a current area of need is the economic, physical and mental well-being of our students. If you can, please consider making a donation.

And if you’re participating in COVID-19 community projects, don’t forget to tell us:

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