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Seniors in Action (SIA) answers need for a more diverse and inclusive Seniors group

Seniors in Action (SIA) is a non-profit organization established to answer the need in our community for a more diverse and inclusive Seniors group, including those in social and geographic isolation. It is a group of Seniors from all walks of life, sharing the ideals of healthy living. It is led and inspired by seniors who make a difference in the lives of others and the community. We capitalize on seniors’ leadership and abilities in facilitating seniors. We have over 100 registered and non-registered members. Since its inception in 2016, our organization has provided opportunities for seniors to stay mentally and physically active through events that encourage greater inclusion and community engagements. Our indoor activities are held at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (TPASC) once a week including, Yoga, Zumba, Hula, Line Dancing. These activities provide Seniors with opportunities to keep active while maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy heart, and sharp memory. Studies show that staying active doubles the number of calories burned while also giving Seniors a renewed sense of purpose. People feel their best when they are engaged in worthwhile activities that improve the quality of their lives. Providing seniors with recreational activities and bus trips allows them to explore different places. It also creates a stronger bond and educational experience among them. It also enables them to socialize and become more engaged with peers and the community. For more information, please visit our website at seniorsinaction.ca.

The world has changed, and our lives have been affected by COVID-19 in many different ways. The pandemic is stressful and physically and mentally exhausting. It affects older people differently than the younger generations. Seniors are more likely to have dire outcomes from the virus especially with their inability to be with family and friends, and the restrictions that do not allow them to go out and do the things they love to do with other people. The effects are compounded for any older person who does not have access to technology platforms like Zoom, FaceTime or limited access to phone calls. The absence of social contact creates isolation, loneliness and depression, especially among seniors.

Seniors also experience a fair amount of ageism. Even if they don’t say it out loud, some people think that older people don’t matter because they will die soon anyway. That is wrong! Age is just a number. Ageing does not prevent any of us from leading fulfilling lives. Seniors continue to contribute to the community, and we can all benefit from their wisdom, friendship and experience.

During COVID-19, SIA has remained resilient. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, all SIA indoor activities and social activities were interrupted, if not cancelled. We have accepted that things will change; we must adapt. However, we do have a choice on how we react to change. We chose to manage it instead of letting the change control us. We pivoted!

A short breezy walk with my son in the park sparked the idea to create a Seniors Walking Group. It struck me like a bolt of lightning. What’s not to love about walking? The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to move from indoor to outdoor activities. It is free and easy on the joints, especially for seniors. In addition to being an easy aerobic exercise, walking is good for us in many other ways. It improves circulation, shores up our bones, lightens our mood, helps us maintain our weight, strengthens muscles, improves sleep, improves our breathing, slows down mental decline, lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s, and helps us to enjoy a longer life.

Deciding to make a change was easy, but getting our members on board was much more difficult. We all have habits! It is easier to resist change than welcome routine. It is human nature. It is so true that when patterns are broken, new worlds emerge. To convince my team that the new world I was trying to create could be better than before took a lot of planning, commitment, patience and courage. As we adjusted to the new normal, we reinvented ourselves with new activities to do together in our journey to health and wellness. The words “COVID-19 lockdown” kept ringing in our ears. People everywhere were talking about it. We heard it on the radio, television and read it in the newspaper. It was scary! But not everything is locked down. We kept moving forward and opened new doors by doing new things. Like, little kids, our curiosity took us down new paths.

We created an SIA Walking Group, along with new habits and routines. We woke up early in the morning and explored the beautiful parks in our community while practicing COVID-19 protocols – we wore masks and practiced social distancing. We learned how to take photos and appreciate more of the little things around us. We became leaders in the Walking Group; inspired and influenced other seniors and family members to learn and understand the benefits of walking. We became tourists in our neighbourhood, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. We walked and exercised in the park for fresh air. We sang and danced again as if there was no tomorrow. What a beautiful sight! We learned new skills and hobbies; read more books for self-improvement. We used our imaginations and creativity. Hopes and dreams were not locked down.

The truth is that change can be a wonderful gift. It was for us. A wonderful gift that brought joy to us every time we met in the park. I believe that it is the key that unlocks the doors to growth and excitement in any organization. Change works in the corporate world; it could work for us too.

While most of us have been able to cope with COVID-19, some Seniors do not have the resources they need to deal with the stress. Many Seniors lack access to new technology and can not engage in physical exercise or participate in our new routines. As a result, they experience social isolation. The absence of resources can be mitigated. Technology has emerged as an important resource for maintaining social connection as well as for accessing mental health services.

A big part of my role as the leader of SIA is to inspire them to get out of their comfort zones. To assure them that even though they are on a new path, it is the right path for the right reason. I had many sleepless nights thinking about how I could support their needs in the fight against COVID-19. I reached out to our government and other community leaders for assistance. We applied to the New Horizons for Seniors Programs for funding. Our project proposal: Stay Connected with Computer Technology. It is a program that supports and encourages social participation and inclusion amongst seniors through regular fitness and wellness programs. The goal is to help Seniors stay physically and mentally active and strong and fit enough to keep doing the things they like to do and maintain their independence.

Many Seniors don’t have the skills they need to access the Internet or the equipment, programs and instructors they need to learn how to use new technology. Mobility problems and language are also barriers that some Seniors face. Thanks to the New Horizons for Seniors Program (NHSP). SIA was able to develop and deliver programs tailored to their needs.

Participants learned how to access the Internet and stay connected with the community, family and friends through Facebook, Zoom, Instagram and other social media platforms. We created a website (seniorsinaction.ca) that showcases who we are and what we do to enrich the lives of our seniors. We also hosted classes, workshops and information sessions about health safety including, Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and finances that seniors can apply in their day-to-day lives.

As the old proverb goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Finding the right people and volunteers who are committed and understand our mission is the key to our success. The challenges that came with navigating technology should not prevent Seniors from leading fulfilling lives, especially during the pandemic. With all of the uncertainties and safety concerns resulting from COVID-19, we have no choice but to continue hosting our programs virtually.

Partnering with The Filipino Students Association of Scarborough (FSAS) to help teach Seniors within our community to become digital citizens was a blessing. The partnership benefits both the students and the Seniors. The students develop their leadership skills by providing them with the opportunity to teach the Seniors basic technology and social media skills. Partnering with the youth also closed the gap between the elderly and youth population. COVID-19 has brought the community together.

On June 8, 2021, we launched the “Stay Connected with Technology” Program. It was a 10-week program, featuring a two-hour class every Tuesday from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. We focused on the curriculum in the first hour; the second hour was for socializing and entertainment. By working together, young people and Seniors gained respect and appreciation for one another, bringing tremendous benefits to our communities.

By: Alicia Siervo
President, Seniors in Action (SIA)

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