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 www.unitedwaycso.com
Submitted by Avril Paice, Director of Community Investment for United Way of the Central and South Okanagan Similkameen
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.