Harry Nichiporik can’t recall how he first learned about the Westend Seniors Activity Centre (WSAC), but it was the warm reception received when first stepping through the centre's doors in Edmonton's Terra Losa neighbourhood that have kept him and his wife Mary coming back.
“We took several courses; speakers on different subjects. We both really enjoy that,” said Nichiporik. “It’s a nice sized facility, and they do things to interest people.”
The retired couple has volunteered at the centre for over ten years, Harry on the board and travel committee, and both offering yearly help with the Older, Bolder, Better!™ tradeshow and symposium.
“Volunteering wasn’t a condition of my joining,” smiled Nichiporik. “When the call came, I came out to join.”
For Mary, who helps in the kitchen and “behind the scenes”, the cheery, active atmosphere is the main draw.
“The people here are so friendly, but it’s also the talks, the programs. And just to get out and get some exercise.”
Cynthia Gordon joined the centre a few years after retirement, starting with its walking group. Living not too far from the modern, spacious building, it wasn’t long before she started volunteering a “little bit in the kitchen,” even joining the special events committee. She’s now a 12-year volunteer veteran, helping put on special events, fashion shows and staff functions.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed volunteering at the centre. The only thing that will stop me coming is when I physically can’t do it anymore," said Gordon, adding it's the bustling atmosphere that lifts her spirits.
“You can pick and choose what you want to do,” she added. “Any day I go there I am with friendly people. You can have a coffee, laugh with them, just hang out.”
Westend Seniors Activity Centre is one of Edmonton’s largest and busiest seniors' facilities. Since its launch as the Edmonton Self Starters Organization in 1978, it has moved twice while continuing to evolve. The current 2,100 sq m facility includes a woodworking space, café, gymnasium and fitness room, along with a wide offering of drop-in and registered programs.
This year marks WSAC's 45th anniversary. Upcoming events include the anniversary gala and the 25th anniversary of the Older, Bolder, Better symposium.
“We have a lot of milestones,” said Haidong Liang, executive director. “The organization has witnessed a significant increase of members and programs in the past 12 years.”
Liang recalls seeing a single page of programs in 2011, when he first took on his role with WSAC. Now there are 85 pages, and volunteers contribute up to 10,000 hours annually.
Not only did these achievements earn WSAC the 2019 Minister’s Seniors Service Award, Liang won the Ministers Seniors Service Award in 2021. He is also recipient of Edmonton Top 40 Under 40 and last year received the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee medal (Alberta) for community service. During the pandemic, Liang also took the lead in creating online exercise programs for members that kept seniors active and connected.
Before the 2020 shut down, WSAC averaged 200 to 250 volunteers annually. Their hours dropped to about 5,000 during the pandemic, but numbers are returning to normal. Last year, 150 volunteers put in just under 8,000 hours.
Through partnerships, Liang and his team have shifted focus to become a virtual and physical hub for all seniors, beyond west Edmonton. They’ve reforged the YEG Seniors Alliance as the Alberta Seniors Alliance with the addition of Strathcona County, Drive Happiness, and the St. Albert and Seba Beach seniors' groups.
The collaboration gives seniors from all walks of life--including low income, Indigenous, LGBTQ, Asian and rural seniors--access to a stellar array of programs and resources. It also expands volunteer choices.
“You could, for example, do a volunteer position with Drive Happiness," said Liang, noting two words that reflect WSAC's culture: intergenerational and multi-cultural.
“The diversity of the Seniors Alliance means we are inclusive and provide a lot of opportunities."
In other areas, partnerships with universities bring students to WSAC from psychology and medicine programs, while a collaboration with Norquest College gives autistic adults work roles at the centre. Staff have recently launched a seniors' fraud information service, with more programming to come.
The Nichiporiks keep volunteering for those reasons, and more.
“I would definitely encourage people to come here,” said Mary. “It’s an uplift, always buzzing.”
“I love being there,” agreed Gordon. “I feel I have a purpose to serve and to give, and I learn while I’m doing it. It just doesn’t feel like 11 years for me.”
Upcoming centre events include a Volunteer Appreciation Lunch, Mother’s Day Tea and the Older, Bolder, Better!™ Tradeshow and Symposium on June 8. A date for the anniversary gala has not yet been set. Watch for updates at weseniors.ca.