The well-tended shrubbery and inviting deck that adorn the little grey house on 84th Avenue in Strathcona already exude welcome. For seniors who drop in, often on a daily basis, the home-like interior completes the allure.
A dining table set for dinner, art filled walls and brightly lit kitchen all revive a setting they likely grew up with.
Run by Senior Citizens Opportunity Neighbourhood Association (SCONA), many of seniors who drop by to play cards or simply share laughs with friends are in past their 80s.
“The seniors who come here, they need to feel ownership of this space,” explains Ashley Swyck, outreach worker. “We try hard to keep that alive here. This is their place, their home away from home.”
Older seniors have different needs than people in their 60s, Cathy McLean, SCONA executive director and programmer, told CBC news last year.
Their mobility is quite often restricted and those female seniors who raised their families did so at a time when women were not encouraged to work outside the home.
“So their Canada pension is minimal, if it all," said McLean. “Our primary goal is to reconnect them with their peers, people their own age, in a way that allows them to develop friendships that are very lasting."
Swyck, who is a registered social worker, has found that larger senior centres are not attractive to the “more senior” seniors.
“When they go in, they say they feel like they’re going back to high school. They are welcomed, sure, but they don’t know anybody,” she said. “Here, they’re welcomed, given a coffee, invited to sit down.”
Charlotte Kochan, in her third year as SCONA’s president, has been coming 13 years in order “to be part of the atmosphere”.
She gives credit to the lasting relationships built there for her longevity as a regular.
“Because it’s friendly, you get to know people,” she says. “I’m alone except for my dog. It’s sometimes good to just pick up the phone and call someone.”
She first walked through the door as a visitor, and within two years was volunteering, starting with writing birthday cards for members. She now helps with things like membership fees and sits in as peer support volunteer.
That can be anything from talking on the phone, introducing a new member to the outreach worker, or going out for coffee.
“It’s just to connect with other people, perhaps after they’ve taken a fall or need a call in the evenings,” says Kochan.
In-house activities at the centre include creative writing, chaired yoga and computer courses. A popular event that draws a full house is the home cooked lunch every Friday. And their fundraiser this month at Kenilworth hall features a theatrical production of “Christmas Down on the Farm”, put on by the SCONA seniors drama club.
The centre’s confined space has also generated some creative solutions. Members go on outings, and programming has been extended to Ritchie and Kenilworth community halls, including dance parties, birthday celebrations and guest speakers.
There are also intergenerational programs with local elementary schools and play schools, in which staff arrange get-togethers three or four times a year.
Swyck realizes that outreach is especially important for older seniors, and that home visits are key.
“I do a lot of outreach within the seniors homes. It’s beneficial for them as they have lots of barriers for getting to me, issues with transportation, (and) many are on low income,” she says. “And it benefits me to see what their home situation is, their environment.”
A key outcome was the discovery that some older seniors were extremely isolated, at times not leaving the house for up to two weeks.
“They didn’t want to go to seniors centres, for a lot of reasons,” said Swyck. “I wanted to break that social isolation.”
So with the help of the Edmonton Community Foundation, SCONA has launched a travelling seniors outreach program, which brings services to where seniors live through their local community league. So far Kenilworth and Ritchie are seeing success, while talks are underway to bring in a third community hall.
As for the little house where SCONA finds a home, the confined space means they can’t offer a lot of courses. However the quaint and cozy setting is unique in the city, says Swyck.
“Senior seniors don’t want to do courses anymore,” she says. “They just want to meet with new people, meet with existing friends, eat some great food.”
For more information email Scona84th@shaw.ca or call 780-433-5377.