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Change Starts Here

Support for seniors

Asking for help is difficult for most people. It can be especially daunting if a senior has always been independent, and then suddenly needs more support because of an illness, injury or other sudden life change.

For many years, United Way has helped ensure that assistance is available to seniors and families who do reach out for support, by making an annual investment in the Seniors Outreach and Resource Centre as well as several other seniors organizations in the Okanagan Valley. Donations to the United Way campaign are critical to agencies like Seniors Outreach, who depend on core funding to keep their doors open.

Community volunteers are also essential, because the centre has only three paid employees responding to thousands of inquiries each year. Volunteer support allows the funding to be leveraged so that more seniors can be helped, which is a tremendous value to the overall well-being of the community. The greatest needs are around handy-person tasks, social transportation and friendly visiting.

Kathryn McLean, a social worker who has been supporting seniors through the centre since 2011, says, “For some people, it takes a lot for them to be able to pick up the phone and call for help. Sometimes they are perplexed about why they don’t qualify for particular services in the community. We try to match the volunteer to what the senior is wanting and needing. It feels good when we are able to say yes.”

McLean says a favourite part of her role is helping people understand their options. “When somebody goes away knowing what is available to them and feeling empowered to take the next step, I know I accomplished what I set out to do. I like to make things clear in a way that the person can understand. That’s rewarding.”

She says that a lot of people don’t really understand how hard life can be for seniors, especially if they are lacking social and family support, have limited financial resources, and are restricted by health issues and disabilities.

Mahat is a volunteer with Seniors Outreach who hosts the weekly Coffee Break get-togethers that are held at the Apple Valley building at 2055 Benvoulin (across from Orchard Park Mall). Seniors Outreach has their offices in the main floor of the seniors apartment building.

A semi-retired bus driver, Mahat finds hosting the social gatherings very rewarding, even baking treats to share with the group. Seniors Outreach is his first experience with volunteering, and he enjoys the weekly routine of making coffee, setting out everything the group needs, and helping people to feel welcome and comfortable. He says both men and women attend the meetings.

“I see challenges they are facing. Sometimes it’s loneliness. One fellow’s wife passed away and then his son also passed away, and he has no brothers or sisters," he says. “People come to the group and they talk about their own lives, what they did during the week, and sometimes they help each other with different things too.”

Mahat feels that Seniors Outreach does an excellent job of helping seniors through their outreach services, programs and volunteer services.

United Way works with partner agencies like Seniors Outreach Services Society, investing in three focus areas: building strong communities, helping kids be all they can be, and moving people from poverty to possibility. To join the movement, visit


Submitted by Avril Paice, Director of Community Investment for United Way of the Central and South Okanagan Similkameen


The engagement equation

It’s interesting when words or phrases become buzz words in our everyday language. One that you may have heard lately is the word ‘engagement'. You may have heard of it in terms of ‘volunteer engagement’ or ‘community engagement'. Let’s look at this interesting word and these two specific applications.

Overall, engagement describes a process in which meaningful participation, collaboration, and dialogue are involved. This definition does have broad application but it boils down to the emotional and functional commitment of individuals or groups of individuals to a cause that they believe in.

Community engagement deals with the practice of moving communities towards change; it allows communities to learn about and contribute and shape the decisions that affect their lives. Community engagement should therefore lead to an improved and organized community by providing a voice for all citizens including vulnerable members of our community. Central to the success of the concept of engagement is a common ideal or vision. The vision needs to be rooted in local values, grounded in community experience, and shaped by as many citizens as possible. Research suggests that when people have opportunities to contribute to the decisions that affect their lives, they are more likely to support these decisions over the long-term.

Volunteer engagement is a fundamental cornerstone of the voluntary sector. Volunteer engagement is a strategy that builds organizational capacity through employee and volunteer collaboration. Capacity is about abundance – having more resources to reach more people. For volunteers to be truly engaged, an organization needs to create opportunities for volunteers to meaningfully contribute. Volunteer engagement builds the capacity of the non-profit organization beyond what staff alone can accomplish. You would almost certainly ever hear a non-profit admit to having too many people involved in their cause because it’s the synergy of engagement of individuals that leads to increase in awareness and ultimately support.

So what’s common to both community engagement and volunteer engagement? In a word – collaboration. So whether you’re a volunteer, staff member or citizen - find your place, get involved, collaborate. When we work together amazing things can happen.

Leveraging people power

Organizations, by and large, strive for win-win outcomes. The United Way loaned and sponsored representative program goes even further. It is a triple win benefiting individuals, businesses and communities.

A Loaned Representative is temporarily loaned from a business to assist during United Way’s fall campaign season. A Sponsored Representative can be hired by United Way thanks to a directed financial contribution from a corporate or individual donor.

The first win is for the organization that loans or sponsors an employee. Businesses actively seek out leadership training for employees, and this role is packed with learning. An additional benefit is United Way’s ability to showcase these philanthropic partners as a visible force for positive community change.

The second win is for the loaned or sponsored employee. An emerging leader gains enriched skills while fostering a deeper commitment to their community. They return to work re-invigorated, bringing with them enhanced communications abilities, broader networks, and experience in time and project management as well as negotiation.

Angela Pomeroy, who served as a sponsored representative at United Way CSO in 2012, experienced first-hand the power of community working together for a common purpose. Her role was made possible by the generosity of Interior Savings and the Colin and Lois Pritchard Foundation, and she has continued working with United Way as our Development Associate. Those who support the program make a profound philanthropic impact in their community, because the gift is leveraged to achieve impact far beyond the cost of the initial investment.

“Change is something that is achievable for any person. I think of those individuals who come from the mindset of ‘what can I do? I’m just one person.’ I was asked that question quite often when I was doing presentations to organizations. People would say, ‘I can’t afford something huge that would make a real change.’ But you have to remember that every bit of change literally adds up.”

Thousands of community members will be positively affected by the work of one loaned or sponsored representative, so the third win is a big one for communities. When local workplaces are supported by these representatives to run successful and engaging internal fundraising campaigns, more people understand the needs in their community and how their decision to give, volunteer or act result in change.

Rhonda Ewan was a loaned representative from Interior Savings for the 2013 United Way CSO Campaign.

“It gave me a good feeling. I was giving back to my community, in a way that I learned more about what’s going on in my own backyard. I was born and raised here and am I raising my kids here, and I want them to grow up in a strong community and know what they can do to make a difference.”

To find out more about the Loaned and Sponsored Representative Program, and how United Way makes change happen in our communities, contact us at 250-860-2356 or visit


Putting donations to work

With so many charitable organizations seeking public support, donors want to know “how much of my donation actually gets to the people who need it?”

United Way helps both non-profit organizations and businesses to achieve their community goals, by providing a hand up. As a broad network with 64 years of history serving the Central Okanagan, the organization leverages many types of resources so that the benefit to the community exceeds the initial investment.

Pathways Abilities Society, one of United Way’s longest-standing partner agencies, is a great example of leveraging partnerships and resources. Recently, the charity applied to United Way for grant funding to help with an important goal: building relationships with local businesses in order to increase employment opportunities for adults with diverse abilities. United Way provided a grant of $5000 towards this project, but the value to the community was much higher thanks to everyone who got involved.

Creating employment opportunities for persons with diverse abilities is about more than wages or job descriptions; it starts with knowing that every person brings unique abilities and needs to their work.  When a person with a disability seeks work, they face both practical challenges (such as a need for equipment to be adapted) and attitudinal barriers (such as stereotypes).

With growing labour shortages in our region and an aging work force, groups that have not traditionally been top of mind for employers are an untapped resource. Persons with diverse abilities are ready and able to work. Their contributions make our communities better places to live; whether they are providing recycling services, helping people with grocery purchases at the supermarket checkout, or creating wooden fencing and boxes for birds and bees, the individuals employed through Pathways are an integral part of our local work scene.

Katarina Gerhardt began working for Home Depot in Kelowna April of 2012 in a seasonal position in the garden center.  Katarina’s friendly and caring personality is a natural match for a customer service job.  She quickly demonstrated an aptitude for sales.  Katarina continued on with part time work at the store after the gardening season ended and has been there ever since.  Katarina is a valued member of the Home Depot team. 

Myrna Park of Century 21 Assurance Reality Ltd, a United Way volunteer, is an employer that understands the benefit of hiring individuals who have diverse abilities.  Myrna has developed a partnership with Pathways and has created several jobs for people in her place of business.  Two people are employed part time to complete tasks around the office: cleaning, watering plants, shredding, and dusting.  Two other men are employed seasonally for yard maintenance.

To increase the impact of funding and achieve greater results, United Way also invites people with diverse abilities to share their stories during presentations with local business leaders, workplaces and service clubs. One of United Way’s workplace campaign coordinators volunteered with the group of self-advocates, drawing on his public speaking training to help them improve their storytelling skills.

United Way is much more than a funder. When Pathways Abilities Society was planning community focus groups as part of their employment project, United Way was able to blast the information out to the entire network of non-profits, businesses, and private individuals who comprise the movement for change, reaching thousands of people who have the ability to get involved.

A gift to United Way can mean giving, volunteering, or acting to create a better community for everyone. 100% of every gift results in impact, being compounded by other gifts, to deliver even higher returns from the initial investment. Since impact is multiplied by many hands working together, lives improve every day.  That’s the United Way.


Column submitted by Avril Paice, Director of Community Investment, United Way of the Central and South Okanagan Similkameen

Read more Change Starts Here articles

About the Author

The mission of United Way is to improve lives and build community by engaging individuals and mobilizing collective action. We call this our community impact mission. Community impact is about achieving meaningful, long-term improvements to the quality of life in Canadian communities, by addressing not just the symptoms of problems but also getting at the root causes. It’s about making fundamental changes to community conditions. United Way is achieving this mission by moving people from poverty to possibility, promoting healthy people and strong communities, and supporting all that kids can be.



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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