Jessie-Elizabeth Handy began using the Better/Seniors at Home services earlier this year. Through the program, she is picked up by coordinator April Christensen or a volunteer to run errands at the bank, pharmacy and grocery store. (YCS photo)

Jessie-Elizabeth Handy began using the Better/Seniors at Home services earlier this year. Through the program, she is picked up by coordinator April Christensen or a volunteer to run errands at the bank, pharmacy and grocery store. (YCS photo)

Empowering Seniors in the North Thompson Valley:Clearwater and Barriere program promotes senior independence

The COVID-19 pandemic has kept everyone on their toes as restrictions and guidelines continually change. No matter what comes next though, the coordinators of the Better/Seniors at Home programs in Clearwater and Barriere will keep coming up with creative ways to continue their work with seniors in their communities.

The Better/Seniors at Home programs are funded by two different entities, the United Way and Yellowhead Community Services, but have the same end goal: to help seniors keep their independence and live at home.

“(Seniors) are pretty fun to be around,” said April Christensen, Better/Seniors at Home coordinator for Clearwater. She was raised by her grandmother in the Philippines and previously worked in a long-term care centre for about ten years, and said she just enjoys working with seniors.

“They make you laugh and they’re just good people to converse with.”

Christensen and a team of volunteers and contractors help seniors in their area with a variety of tasks, including grocery shopping, transportation, yard work, snow removal and housekeeping.

The program started in May, 2019, and is currently serving about 60 local seniors.

How the program operates has evolved since the pandemic began earlier this year, however. Volunteers would often provide in-home services, most of the time just to check in and have a face-to-face conversation, but COVID-19 has forced the coordinators to be creative.

They have volunteers who will phone clients to check in and make sure they are okay. The program also recently introduced library pick-ups so clients can refresh their book collection. Christensen continues to coach her staff to ensure they find time to speak with their seniors, even if they are just dropping off groceries, as it gives them the opportunity to create the connection.

“The purpose…is to promote independent living because we know the longer seniors live in their home independently, the happier and better connected they are to their neighbourhood, the more likely they are to be healthy mentally and physically,” said Susanne Butcher, YCS chief operating officer.

Social isolation is a common concern among the senior demographic. Many may not have any friends or family in the area to help with basic needs, but it can also affect their social lives.

And with COVID-19 restrictions keeping everyone farther apart, the mental health of everyone is largely affected.

“Social isolation is a very big barrier,” said Butcher. “It increases vulnerability for seniors at this time so we are trying to focus on that connection piece in different ways.”

Eldon Dutcher is the program’s first client. He said Better/Seniors at Home helped him through one of the “darkest times in my lifetime,” bringing him meals, providing transportation or just general support, after his body said enough was enough.

“My body collapsed on me,” said Dutcher. “I couldn’t do anything, kind of at wits end…It’s been a wonderful program.”

He said he’s recovered to about 60 to 75 per cent physical ability, so is able to do more on his own again. But volunteers from the program, including Christensen, will still call him to check in.

“They always call me, ‘If you need something just, please, let us know,’” he said. ” I was very blessed and very thankful and grateful of them being there for me.”

Though the program has about 60 clients, the time spent and services provided vary depending on need. Some, like Dutcher, needed more assistance for a short while, whereas others, like Jessie-Elizabeth Handy, are consistent clients. Handy uses the services once per week to do her shopping.

Christensen said she picks her up, obeying social distancing and COVID-19 protocols, to take her to the bank, the pharmacy and grocery store. Sometimes Handy feels good and does the shopping on her own, other days she needs a hand. But, she doesn’t have a car so she relies on the program for her transportation needs.

She said she’s quite fond of Christensen and the program.

“We should have had them years ago,” said Handy. “April, she’s a fantastic woman. She’s got a beautiful personality.”

The program is open to those over the age of 65 and who are able to demonstrate a need, whether that be financially, physically or socially. The services provided are based on need and are lighter services due to budget and volunteer numbers.

For more information about the program or to volunteer call the YCS offices in Clearwater at 250-674-2676, or Barriere at 250-672-9773, or visit yellowheadcs.ca. A referral to the program can be made through filling out a form.