The following story was submitted by B.C.’s Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction
Getting together over lunch with new friends was a popular program for Seniors Come Share until a global pandemic brought it to a temporary halt.
Fortunately, the Surrey-based non-profit did a quick pivot and invented a virtual lunch gathering, complete with cooking lesson and a meal delivered to participants’ doors.
“Digital literacy is one of the opportunities that COVID-19 brought us,” said Louise Tremblay, executive director of Seniors Come Share, which has operated for 43 years. “It’s an additional way to reach people and gives people the opportunity to connect rather than self-isolate.”
A number of the older adults are not as familiar with technology as are the younger generations who have grown up with it. Seniors Come Share uses “tech buddy” initiatives to help its clients cross that gap.
One past program with that aim involved seniors giving a cooking lesson, younger guests giving a tech lesson and everybody enjoying a meal together. Tech buddies, who are part of volunteer programs at Seniors Come Share, have continued to be in demand during the pandemic. Tremblay says this is no surprise, given that so many services have had no choice but to go virtual.
Even before COVID-19, the society offered a program called Seniors Centre Without Walls. The small-group gathering via teleconference features a mix of trivia, storytelling, music, health information and socializing. Seniors Come Share runs the popular teleconference 50 times a month.
“I’m really impressed how the society has been able to adapt its services to reduce social isolation and ensure those vital human-to-human connections continue throughout the pandemic,” said Nicholas Simons, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “Seniors Come Share is just one of over 2,000 community social services agencies that provide vital services.”
Not everything can go virtual. Many of the 500 seniors and their families that Seniors Come Share serves in a typical month have felt the loss of the day programs that were provided at its three locations in Surrey and White Rock. Those programs served about 75 people a day.
“Helping seniors with diverse needs – from navigating the system to help with advanced planning – used to happen at Surrey recreation centres, but now has had to go online. That’s just how it must be for now,” Tremblay said.
She and her staff see the effect of social isolation on their clients during the pandemic. “We have observed people’s health decline, people getting thin and their cognition declining,” Tremblay said. “The impact of isolation is so critical in health, especially for older people. Having interactions with us at Seniors Come Share is how they socialize, and it’s been very, very difficult for them to not have that in person.”
Like all B.C. non-profit organizations providing community social services, Seniors Come Share relies on diverse sources to fund its work. The Fraser Health Authority, community foundations, the City of Surrey and annual gaming grants are all key funders. Better At Home, a provincial program funded by the B.C. government and administered by the United Way, supports Seniors Come Share and other community organizations to provide diverse in-home supports to older adults so they can continue to live independently.
The B.C. government proclaimed March as Community Social Services Awareness Month in appreciation of the hard work of the over 42,000 people who work in the community social services sector. They provide help and assistance to those who need it most.
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