Brandi & Tamina’s Story

Ensuring access to basic needs

RDP Nursing Students in front of UWCA

“We found every single community is affected by food security because of the increase in food costs.” – Brandi

Documenting Basic Needs and Fostering Community Collaboration

In a United Way Central Alberta (UWCA) initiative, Red Deer Polytechnic Bachelor of Science Nursing (BScN) students Brandi Olmstead and Tamina Gravelle teamed up to shed light on the issue of basic needs in the community. Through their research and outreach, their aim was not only to understand the challenges faced by individuals and families but also foster community collaboration for long-term solutions. In an interview, they shared their motivations, experiences, and key findings from their project. 

“A grant from ALTA Gas provided the necessary funding to support research and community engagement efforts,” said UWCA’s Community Impact Manager, Lori Jack. “The aim is to develop sustainable partnerships within different communities as well as leverage existing relationships and resources. Our goal is to co-create solutions that align with each community’s unique needs and engage local businesses and organizations to drive lasting change.” 

Tamina was driven by her background as a massage therapist and a passion for health legislation and governance. “Everyone can see what is happening in our downtown area with the opioid pandemic, people are getting hurt, and just watching harm reduction start out as an idea and end up you know, as a whole system, just kind of drove me to get into that, I wanted to be on the street and help.” 

Similarly, Brandi, a social work graduate, mother, and aspiring nurse, decided to pursue her passion after raising her children. Both students were both intrigued by the opportunity to explore the social aspects of nursing beyond traditional healthcare settings. 

“We’re both moms and we’re both 37. That’s worth something!” added Tamina.  

Brandi and Tamina conducted surveys and interviews with stakeholders, including agencies, shelters, and community volunteers. They researched the challenges related to food security, homelessness, clothing, transportation, accessibility, and digital connectivity. 

Finding Common Ground: Shared Struggles and the Need for Change  

The project revealed a sobering reality: food insecurity affects every community.  

“We broke it down into questions about food security, homelessness, clothing and footwear, transportation, accessibility, and phone and internet access in a service perspective and access perspective,” said Brandi. “We found every single community is affected by food security because of the increase in food costs.” 

“You almost felt silly asking the question because food is so expensive and I don’t know who isn’t feeling grocery expenses right now,” said Tamina. “You wouldn’t have felt silly five years ago.” 

Their research also shed light on the isolation and lack of resources faced by rural communities, emphasizing an urgent need for equitable access to healthcare and social support. 

Barriers and Beyond: Navigating Government Programs  

Brandi and Tamina observed that accessing government was a big challenge for many vulnerable individuals. Limited technological access, low digital literacy, and a lack of assistance in navigating bureaucratic systems hindered people’s ability to access the support they desperately needed.  

“FCSS’s are helping people navigate that paperwork.  It’s a huge consequence of COVID.  People take for granted that everyone has access to a computer or a printer.  The most vulnerable people are on a flip phone with minutes.  Having proper staff to navigate the government systems is huge.” 

Reflecting on their experiences, Brandi and Tamina underlined the importance of community collaboration and the need for a holistic approach to addressing basic needs.  

It really highlighted the need for cultural competencies and safety and that more attention has to be paid to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls for Action and the effects of the past 250 years on the local reserves and the communities nearby trying to supply enough resources,” said Tamina. 

UWCA hopes to continue the project in the future.