An online search for “seniors supports Calgary,” will yield over 7.3 million results. There are a broad range of services and resources available to help older adults in our city live safe, healthy, and meaningful lives. But navigating these systems of support can feel overwhelming.
As older people are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, more seniors in our city need help navigating the resources available to meet their basic needs and support their physical and emotional well-being.
The Way in Network offers this support. The network consists of four agencies—Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society, Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association, carya, and Jewish Family Services Calgary—that work together to provide outreach services to older adults across our city, helping them and their families navigate the systems that support seniors.
With help from the Community Response Fund, the network has been able to expand and adapt their services, adjusting to the new and increased needs of seniors in our community, and ensuring both staff and clients remain safe while meeting these needs.
Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association
Liza Chan is the executive director of the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association. She explained some of the barriers elderly Calgarians are facing, including mobility issues, language barriers, and limited support from friends and family due to social distancing.
To ensure seniors are getting the support they need throughout this pandemic, staff members at the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association are taking 50-100 calls a day. They are helping older adults apply for benefits, complete tax returns, have groceries delivered, access face masks, and get emotional support. Programming, such as exercise classes, is also still being offered over the phone and online.
Chan recognizes the benefits in this new way of working: “We’re doing programming in a different way now, but I think it is a good way for all of us to learn—our seniors are learning too. They’re learning to have programming through a different means. And we are realizing that offering over-the-phone or online programming also helps us access those with mobility issues, or those who don’t drive.”
Chan explained that all four organizations that make up The Way In Network share the same protocol: to help seniors. This is what unites the group.
Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society
Lori Paine, executive director of Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society, explained that in addition to other services and programs, her organization provides vital support to the network through their volunteer programming.
With their expertise in volunteer and community engagement, Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society regularly utilizes over 1,350 volunteers to support seniors across the city with needs such as escorted transportation, friendly visiting, and shopping companions, and as well as more innovative and specialized programming including Pet Assist, Caring Companion and Practical Kindness.
Since the pandemic began, the organization has had more than 2,000 inquiries into volunteering and has interviewed, fast-tracked, and on-boarded over 500 additional people to assist in the community during the current crisis. These volunteers make deliveries, pick up and deliver prescriptions and groceries, and connect with seniors over the phone to answer questions and offer support.
Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society has also been streamlining existing programming to meet current needs while planning for the future as we move into the recovery phase of this pandemic.
Food security is an urgent need that many older adults across our city have struggled with, particularly over the past couple of months. Lisa Stebbins, director, multigenerational wellness in community at carya has seen the volume of calls to The Way In Network’s 403-SENIORS (403-736-4677) line increase since the pandemic began. Traditionally, access to housing and general aging issues were the primary areas of concern for callers; however, since mid-March, the focus has been on COVID-19 related queries and accessing food.
To help, carya has delivered food hampers and activity kits to seniors across the city, many of whom are overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude. As Stebbins explained, “Some of the seniors don’t have family members to help them and say to us, ‘it feels nice to know that someone is thinking of me,’ or, ‘I feel like I matter to somebody.’”
Support from the Community Response Fund will help carya continue to do this work and connect with more seniors in need, particularly in this very difficult time.
Stebbins, along with the other representatives from the network, sees how other social issues arising from this pandemic have impacted our seniors: “One of the things coming out of this pandemic that we need to keep an eye on is social isolation. There is so much research indicating the risks of social isolation, and how it can impact people’s lives. As we move to recovery we’re going to have to pay close attention to how we engage with seniors and get them back out in the community in a way that makes everyone feel safe.”
Jewish Family Service Calgary
Roxanne Droppo, executive director of Jewish Family Service Calgary, has seen the impact of social isolation on seniors who have been social distancing during the pandemic. Each day, staff have been calling to check in with clients, assessing their needs and getting a sense of how they are coping with this new normal we are all facing.
Droppo indicated that by the seventh week of the pandemic, staff could sense a decrease in the mental health of clients. To address this gap, Jewish Family Service Calgary used support from the Community Response Fund to develop a free mental health support line that offers short-term, brief intervention therapy to individuals struggling with mental health due to the pandemic.
Support from the fund also enabled the organization to extend its business hours, which typically ran during the day, to 24/7 support over the phone. This means that any time a senior needs help they can call the organization and speak with someone who can assist them.
Droppo also noted that many local seniors have needed support accessing food since the pandemic began. Realizing that this was an emerging need in the community, Jewish Family Service Calgary bolstered their food pantry to allow access for more seniors looking for help. In the first seven weeks of the pandemic, the organization filled 61 requests from seniors needing food.
The power of collaboration
Through the efforts of these four local agencies, The Way In Network acts as an outreach program for seniors, helping them navigate systems and resources. Each organization offers unique contributions and expertise, making it easy for them to refer clients within the network based on needs—for instance, while Jewish Family Service has a larger food pantry to help seniors struggling to afford or access groceries, Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society has a vast volunteer network that the other agencies can draw upon for help.
Calgarians are resourceful and resilient, so it’s no wonder that we’re finding ways to pull together and lift each other up in a time of uncertainty. The Way In Network is another example of how local organizations are working together to build stronger communities across our city in these turbulent times.
If you’re a senior in need of help, or if you know a senior who could use a hand up during these challenging times, you can access the Way In Network by calling 403-SENIORS (403-736-4677).