Calgary’s older adults are an incredibly diverse group, with every imaginable background, interest, skill, and preference represented amongst them. But they all have the benefits of experience and perspective.
Explore the stories below to learn how older adults and Calgarians made connections during the COVID-19 pandemic — and why that’s important. And visit our Things to do section to learn about opportunities to make connections.
Anne volunteers with a local community association that puts together a free monthly breakfast for seniors.
Adrian’s Story: Volunteering to stay connected to the community during the pandemic
Submitted by the Distress Centre
Adrian Ruiter has been volunteering with Distress Centre Calgary since January 2020. Though DC had to pause their volunteer program in their initial response to the pandemic (during that time only staff responded remotely to contacts), they were able to reopen their contact centre to volunteers in July 2020, through the introduction of safety and sanitation measures.
Adrian says that volunteering at DC during the pandemic has been a great benefit to him and kept him connected to the Calgary community.
From Adrian: “It's nice to be able to go to a building where you can actually interact with real people. Hearing stories from people calling Distress Centre can be very uplifting. You sometimes get to talk to people going through terrible trauma but overcoming it and rising above it. I've been inspired by many of the people I've talked to on the lines.”
Adrian is no longer able to work due to disability but feels he is too young to completely retire. Volunteering at Distress Centre has been beneficial to him and the callers he listens to. That connection is even more important as we all continue dealing with the impact of the pandemic.
He says that he has fared well in the last 20 months despite the pandemic, with the help of his wife and his two daughters who live in Calgary, and the meaningful time he spends volunteering at Distress Centre.
Submitted by Calgary Seniors' Resource Society
Angela has always placed great value on volunteerism and giving back to her community. Her volunteer activities ranged from fundraising, cooking, administration, and coordinating outdoor events to sewing and knitting for fashion shows. However, in the last 10 years her health has declined, which has put some restrictions on her ability to give back. She was diagnosed with leukemia 3 years ago, which has consisted of many doctors’ appointments and hospital visits for treatment.
Angela joined Calgary Seniors’ Essential Transportation program in October 2020 as she was struggling to find assistance with medical transportation. Her husband initially drove her, but soon had health issues of his own come up, which resulted in conflicting schedules that were difficult to coordinate. Angela has since received over 100 rides from Calgary Seniors’ volunteers. She says their help is “like a mountain off [her] back” and that “it helps [her] feel secure”. Trips to the doctor are stressful enough as is, so the fact that these volunteers can lift some of that tension means the world. She also enjoys getting to know these volunteers and sharing a sense of connection with each other. She says, “it is nice to meet other people and how many different walks of life there are. Whether its talking about fishing, knitting, or books… it really lifts my spirits. I need that”. So even though these volunteers are serving a practical need in getting Angela to her appointments on time, they also fulfill her through the conversations they share and the concern they show her. She calls these volunteers her “angels in disguise” and that “they are helping [her] stay alive and that means they care”. Although she can only see half of their faces due to mask protocols, she says, “I feel their smiles and hear their laughs”, which is a true representation of human connection extending beyond what we can physically see.
Throughout these rides, Angela has been courteous enough to bring a small mat on the floor, so she does not contaminate anything in their vehicles from the hospital. One volunteer driver’s wife thanked her for this and baked her a banana cake as a token of appreciation. Angela also spoke of the nurses who gave her a warm blanket for comfort during her treatments and how that small gesture immediately calmed her, especially when she could not have anyone accompany her during those long, 5-hour appointments. It is usually these small acts of kindness that make the greatest impact.
Angela recently moved into a new neighbourhood, and it has made all the difference in her life. When she makes her trips to the community mailbox, she gets to strike up conversations with her neigbours, which is a great way to connect with one another. Angela has plans to spread some holiday cheer by doing something kind and baking her neighbours a treat. It is in these small moments of kindness that people feel connected. Although Angela cannot volunteer in the capacity she used to, she says her “volunteer work now consists of smiling more than anything else”. A smile is universally understood, exchanged, and welcomed. Remember the impact a smile can hold in strengthening communities and building connections. Even though these smiles are sometimes hidden beneath our masks, they are felt intrinsically regardless. So, smile widely, freely, and plenty to ensure that compassion remains constant in our communities.
Peter’s Story: Volunteering helps him stay connected to others during the pandemic
Submitted by the Distress Centre
Pete Oxland has volunteered at Distress Centre Calgary since 2016 in several roles, including crisis line and leadership volunteer. Pete says that being a “listening, non-judgmental ear” for callers has always felt deeply meaningful to him. That feeling has only increased during the pandemic.
You can find Pete, a retiree after 33 years in the IT field, in the Distress Centre contact centre two, three, sometimes four days a week, coaching a new volunteer while they respond to calls. Leadership volunteers help train new volunteers by hosting roleplays and providing coaching.
During the pandemic, volunteering has helped Pete stay connected to the community and avoid isolation.
“Volunteering gets me out of the house. I hop in my car and go to the contact centre. There I see supervisors and other volunteers, many whom I coached. And I have an opportunity to spend four hours with a person I've never met before, people from all walks of life. I find this incredibly meaningful and I've learned so much from coaching.”
Pete also mentors volunteers and keeps in touch with them by phone. Outside his volunteering, when public health measures have allowed, he’s had backyard fires and meals with his family and kept in touch with close friends through phone calls, meals and coffee dates. He also plays his kalimba each early morning by candlelight, armed with a coffee.
Pete encourages other older adults to consider volunteering in their community, feeling they are ideal volunteers because they tend to have spare time and have life experiences that are “worth their weight in gold.” He says many people underestimate their abilities and the value they can bring as a volunteer.
Many of his friends have said they couldn’t volunteer on Distress Centre’s crisis lines, but Pete says that “if you're a caring, empathetic person, and willing to listen and not judge, you could be a very effective crisis line volunteer.”
If volunteering at Distress Centre isn’t for you, Pete suggests looking at your interests, whether it’s animals or gardening or working with people, and find a volunteer opportunity that suits it. It benefits the community and benefits the volunteer, who receives a meaningful and fulfilling experience.
With whatever challenges life throws at us all, Pete recalls a deeply meaningful quote from the book Man’s Search for Meaning: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” ~ Nietzsche.
Pat & Becky's story
Pat and Becky’s story: Staying Connected with the help of the Calgary Seniors’ Friendly Visiting Program
Submitted by Calgary Seniors' Resource Society
Pat and Becky have been matched in Calgary Seniors’ Friendly Visiting program since October 2019. Pat moved into a facility at the start of COVID-19 pandemic after living on her own.
She says this move during COVID-19 has left her feeling very fortunate, as she has great staff, management, and 250 other senior residents to depend on and connect with. The only thing she finds hard is how strict it is with leaving or entering the premises. However, there were many ways she stayed connected to other people during this pandemic.
For starters, she was allowed two essential visitors, which allowed her two daughters to visit with an appointment. While the facility offers many different games and activities, Pat’s opportunities were limited due to her vision impairment.
Her Friendly Visiting volunteer, Becky, would call 2-3 times a week and help by bringing her craft materials or any other supplies she needed. She would often use these crafts as ice breakers to get to know some of the other seniors in the facility by crafting candy wreaths over the holidays for everyone to share or leaving a bowl of candy by her door to start up a conversation.
Another perk Pat had was living on the bottom floor, which means she could visit with others outside of the facility on her balcony, socially distanced.
She says the best thing about having so many different options of connecting with others is that she is never alone. The advice she would pass along to those who do not have the perks of living in a facility with planned activities or social offerings is to make a phone call – no matter how long or short. Having conversations is important and make the world of a difference in her life. She also says to keep busy, whether it is by making phone calls or trying something new.
Becky believes she has made a lot more connections with complete strangers as we continue to share a common struggle – it is easier to empathize and strike up a conversation with people.
Her advice is to not be afraid to talk to others around you – especially strangers. She says to remind yourself that everyone is going through something and we relate to each other more than we think; we all need to continue adapting and supporting one another.
Bill’s Story: Staying connected with the help of Kerby Centre
Submitted by Kerby Centre
The pandemic has shifted the ways in which we connect with each other and the world around us. Social isolation has created fearfulness, loneliness, and a great deal of sadness. However, it has also brought out a sense of hope and optimism, resilience and community spirit—and Bill’s story is a wonderful example of this.
We first met Bill when one of our volunteers referred him to Kerby Centre. Like many other older adults in the city, Bill came to us during the midst of the pandemic seeking much needed support.
The isolation he was experiencing had brought his mobility and financial struggles to the forefront, alongside several emotional challenges. Recognizing the impact this was having on his well-being, Bill took the first step to connect with several different agencies.
“Even if they are closed, they are still there (to provide support),” he says, and encourages other seniors to reach out.
Bill is grateful for the human connections he has made through our programs and credits them with combatting his loneliness and fears about COVID-19. As part of our Social Calling program, our volunteer Karla checks in on him weekly.
“She is wonderful and helped me figure it all out,” he says.
Adapting to new technology is another way Bill maintains connections with others. As an ESL teacher, Bill misses teaching students. However, he has one dedicated student who wanted to continue online, and Bill was quick to make it happen. He also uses smartphone applications, such as WhatsApp, to stay connected with friends around the world.
Bill said how it is “interesting how relationships changed” and says that despite the distance and isolation, bonding over the world crisis brought him closer to his friends.
Staying hopeful about the future, and happy about his vaccine shots, he is making plans to fish and to reconnect with friends in person. We love his optimism and appreciate Bill’s openness to sharing the ways he has been able to stay connected.
When asked how he’d like to be referred to for this story, he said, “Bill, that’s what my friends call me.”
Thank you Bill, for including us in your circle of friends.
Gurcharan’s story: Staying connected and supporting the community
Submitted by The Calgary Women’s Cultural Association
The Calgary Women’s Cultural Association (CWCA) has 50 older adult members including myself, Gurcharan Kaur Thind. I am the coordinator at CWCA. I would like to tell you a story about how older adults in my community reached out to others to help in a time of need during the initial COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
The director of One Voice Canada, Alberta was assisting a group of young international students who wanted to reach out and help those in need during the early part of the pandemic. They planned to deliver food hampers throughout Calgary. Another group called Youth Helping Youth Calgary identified a need to provide feminine hygiene kits to underprivileged teens.
I was asked if my organization could assist with sewing cloth bags for feminine hygiene products. We organized a group of six older adult women to sew 150 cloth bags.
We were then asked if we could make masks for those delivering food hampers. This same group of older adults sewed about 450 masks from their own home. This took about 350 hours of work to accomplish this.
This group of older adults felt like they were using their skills to do something very important for their community in a time of great need. They felt empowered by their actions.
Soon after, these same women joined the Pursuit of Happiness Group at the Calgary Immigrant Woman Association where they made new connections.
People of any age can be inspired to reach out and help others. When we do this, we feel connected to something bigger than us, and we continue to build new relationships.
Louie & Sylvia's story
Louie and Sylvia’s Story: The importance of physical activity and staying connected
Submitted by Calgary Recreation
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Louie and Sylvia could both be found at Thornhill Aquatic and Recreation Centre several times a week. Louie, a retired systems analyst, attended fitness classes as well as weight training twice a week. Sylvia, a retired lifeguard and pool operator, swam and attended aquatic fitness and she taught aquatic fitness.
They also connected through conversation while training and Louie shared his volunteer experience helping organize holiday events for seniors at the pool. Beyond the recreation centre, they were both White Hat volunteers at the Calgary Airport and active in their church and service groups.
Throughout the pandemic, they both saw their regular routines change and began to feel the impacts on their physical fitness.
Sylvia stopped visiting in person with older adults who were shut in and started making phone visits instead. She misses the benefits of her daily workouts in water. While she does online dryland fitness classes at home, her arthritis flares up and she must skip the next day, instead of the daily work outs water allows.
Louie stays connected and fit by helping others with home projects like repairing fences after windstorms, demoing and renovating bathrooms for someone who didn’t have the time to do work on a new home and exterior siding projects. He said he works on them a few hours a day, while also managing aches and pains.
Both noted the differences they have seen on people experiencing dementia, acknowledging how a decrease in social and physical activity affects the brain.
When talking about the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and what returning to routines might look like, Louie recalled a bush pilot friend who did some remote work for several months in the far north where he lived only hearing the sound of the wind and his own body. When he returned back to the city, he found it scary to be around people again.
Louie and Sylvia say they know it is going to be tough for many people as we start to see things re-open and move away from pandemic living. Louie says it is going to be important to keep reaching out to people who are not connected, and Sylvia suggests joining as much as you can to stay active.
Both are looking forward to returning to the physical activity routines that benefit their body and social networks.
Brenda Stafford's story
Staying Connected: Bow View Manor’s Virtual Adult Day Program
You came unexpectedly, you were the unseen force that robbed us of what used to be our normal, you denied us of our comforting hugs and kisses, our morning talks over coffee, our warm shared meals and happy days spent with friends (unmasked). You see, these are our precious moments that we look forward to in our senior years, but you took it away. You made human touch and close contact outside our bubble unacceptable, you left us confined in our homes with nothing to do and with very little interaction with the rest of the world.
But guess what? We have people that will go above and beyond to give us a sense of normalcy. Together we will show you how resilient we can be. We will adapt to this so-called “new normal.” We know it is going to be very challenging, imagine learning zoom at 85? Or trying hard to comprehend and respond to social phone calls when our hearing aides are running low on battery.
However, our determination to survive and to “feel alive” prevails! Despite this isolation we will do our best to reach out to each other and stay connected. We will triumph over you, Covid! We know you are tough, but rest assured we will be tougher!
~ Bow View Adult Day Program clients
Due to COVID-19, in 2020 all Adult Day Programs (ADP) were mandated to close. Bow View Manor ADP staff quickly adapted to put a plan in place to safely engage with 120+ clients from a distance.
The “Staying Connected” program included daily virtual activities such as seated exercise, virtual tours, musical entertainment, interactive word games, reminiscing, and art programs! Staff also completed countless phone calls and sent out activity packages to make sure our clients without computers could stay connected as well.
There was a noticeable improvement in the well-being of clients once “Staying Connected” began, stating their world is “a little more normal” and “a little less lonely.”
Here’s what one participant had to say…
“As a result of COVID-19, The Adult Day Program had to be cancelled and there were no gatherings which along with other personal problems, made life very difficult. In July 2020, a Virtual Adult Day Program was created at Bow View Manor and it was the light at the end of the tunnel for all attendees. This brought all of our groups from the live Adult Day Program together again. The exercise program enabled us to move our body to limber up and help in circulating the blood which made us feel better. The brain teasers help to sharpen our mind and provide an avenue to compete with our peers. It is great to join other members of the Adult Day Program via Zoom.” Gerald J. Dusick
Sarah Allen (pictured) is a Recreation Therapy Aide from Bow View Manor ADP that was instrumental in developing and delivering the program and was recognized for her efforts with an Alberta Continuing Care Association 2020 “COVID HEROES” Award of Excellence.
Saanjha Verha's story
Saanjha Verha Group’s Story
Saanjha Verha (our courtyard) group was formed in July 2020 as part of CIWA’s project, the Pursuit of Happiness (POH) for Immigrant Retirees, funded by Calgary Foundation. Saanjha Verha members are seniors from South Asian background. Due to COVID-19, the project sessions were facilitated online. To eliminate the barrier to participate in the project, the project coordinator Noreen Mahmood trained project participants individually at their homes on how to use Zoom on their devices.
The POH project ended in June, 2021. However, upon the request of the group’s participants Noreen volunteers her time to facilitate weekly group sessions on Tuesdays attended by around 20 seniors. Through weekly group sessions participants are engaged in meaningful discussions on topics such as domestic violence, healthy family relationships, oppression, parenting. Saanjha Verha members prepare presentations, take turns to facilitate sessions, share news updates, songs, jokes, and inspirational stories.
Besides the above-mentioned activities, educational sessions on providing information about available resources and services is a regular feature of the Saanjha Verha. Guest speakers are invited to the group on topics including Seniors’ Health Benefits, CCP, OAS, Wills, services for newcomers, community engagement, as well as on meditation, and self-defense.
For the past 17 months, Saanjha Verha group has developed a unique, supportive, and welcoming culture. Group members have reported high level of self-esteem, self-confidence, and well-being after joining the group. Harminder Chugh who joined the group in July 2020 was newly retired from her job with the CBE and was feeling isolated. After joining the group, Harminder participated in almost all sessions, improved her digital literacy skills by taking online courses at the Calgary Public Library, prepared presentations for the group on various topics of interest, and facilitated sessions. She also started volunteering with AHS and with her ethnic community groups.
Our group member, Gurcharan Thind who joined the group in October 2020 has been attending the sessions regularly, providing updates on current affairs, participates in discussions on issues, shares her articles and stories, delivers presentations, and facilitates the sessions occasionally. Gurcharan joined the Seniors Advisory Committee after learning about Age-Friendly Calgary from Angela during a session.
Another group member, Gurmel reported that she quit taking anti-depressant that she had started taking at the onset of COVID-19 due to the stresses and worries related to the pandemic, and because of her loneliness. She joined the group on her friend’s suggestion. Being shy in the beginning, Gurmel started participating in the discussion and even shared her poetry with the group as well.
The Age-Friendly Calgary social isolation awareness campaign is a collaboration between The City and community partners as part of the Age-Friendly Calgary initiative.
Contact Age-Friendly Calgary by email: firstname.lastname@example.org