Rural & Isolated Support Endeavor (RISE)

Rural & Isolated Support Endeavor (RISE) is an initiative undertaken by the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada Student Committee in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their overarching goal is to connect student volunteers with patients who are deemed likely to benefit from regular communication via phone. This electronic method allows patients in rural areas to receive support and companionship during the pandemic. Additionally, RISE helps to promote mental health and social connection within communities with limited resources.

Members of the Healthy Cities team recently reached out to Deanna Funk one of RISE’s co-leads, to learn more about her role and how the organization is navigating the pandemic. She discusses the different strategies and approaches for promoting companionship, social interaction, and solidarity in vulnerable communities.

What specifically inspired you to become involved with RISE?

I am very proud to have been raised on a grain and cattle farm in Lymburn, Alberta which is about five and a half hours northwest of Edmonton. Growing up there, I experienced first hand the isolation that can come with rural living, especially for those who are more vulnerable like the elderly and minority groups, for example. This country-wide initiative allows me to give back to communities like my hometown by providing support, albeit from a distance. Small gestures like a simple phone call can go a long way, and if I can be part of a team that decreases loneliness in rural areas, I consider that a win!

What has been the greatest challenge that your team has encountered so far in your efforts to support vulnerable populations through RISE? 

Since our project is still in its beginning stages, our student volunteers have not been matched with rural clients as of yet. However, in preparing the supplementary information for the volunteers, we were challenged to have an action plan for people who are struggling with health concerns. For example, clients may feel unsafe at home, be struggling with depression, or have other medical problems. To address this, we ensure that we have each client’s consent to communicate with their primary care physician who referred them in the first place. Since we are not yet medical professionals and cannot give medical advice, it is in the client’s best interest to have their doctor as an important member of the team.

What are some strategies, best practices, or resources that should be considered by youth who aim to provide support and companionship to vulnerable populations using technology, during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Firstly, consider logistics: Is the person you are communicating with in the same time zone? Do they have access to a phone or computer? How literate are they from a technology standpoint? Once you know these details, you can connect with them in a way they are comfortable with and make their experience as positive as possible. Secondly, don’t forget to keep confidentiality at the forefront of your mind. Sometimes electronic means of communication can leave snippets of personal information behind in the form of emails, text messages, etc. Try to avoid using methods that keep a record of your conversations. Alternatively, voice calling and video chatting are “live” and likely the closest things to an in-person meeting. Remember not to speak to friends or family about what you and your companion talked about. They are trusting you to respect their privacy and will likely be sharing some of their struggles with you. Keep in mind how much of an honor it is to be privy to the intimate details of someone else’s life

What steps can youth in Calgary take to promote mental health and social interaction in vulnerable communities?

First of all, remember that everyone is vulnerable right now. People who were vulnerable before just became even more so and those who weren’t may have lost their job, have sick loved ones to care for, or be struggling with their mental health with fewer supports. Make sure to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Then, if you have time and energy to give:

  • Keep an eye out for programs and initiatives that you can volunteer for! Get involved if you can!
  • Take the time to call and see how your family members are doing.
  • Use video chat platforms to reach out to the important people in your life.
  • Check in on your friends to see how they are coping with social isolation.
  • Set up regular phone or video visits with people.
  • Reach out to your friends/classmates to support each other through the sudden end to the school year.
  • Get creative with virtual parties using things like Netflix Party, free online games, and “Share Screen” features on video chat platforms.

Are you recruiting other students to help with RISE? If so, are there any specific qualifications for volunteers, or other information that we can share with prospective volunteers?

Yes, we are still recruiting! For now, we are limiting our volunteers to medical students until we get a better sense of how many client referrals we will get. In the future, we may open up to student volunteers with other training backgrounds. If you are a medical student reading this and are interested in being part of our team, please contact us at!

Pictured from left to right are the three co-leads of RISE: Deanna Funk (University of Calgary) Anchaleena Mandal (Queen’s University and Ella Chochla (NOSM).

Photo by Nataliia Kvitovska on Unsplash