Good Neighbours Active Living Centre provides opportunities for adults 55+ to stay active, be connected to their community, and meet new friends.
A good neighbour is someone we can call when we need a hand. Someone who will check in on us to make sure we’re okay. Someone who cares about us.
And for the older adult members at Good Neighbours Active Living Centre (Good Neighbours), the agency is all this and more. But for Good Neighbours to continue being that constant support for its members throughout the pandemic, they’ve had to make significant changes.
“We first had to close in March,” said Executive Director Susan Sader. “That lasted into early July, then again in early November, and we’ve been closed since.”
Closure meant suspending all their programs, outings, and workshops for their membership of 1,000+ older adults who range in age from mid-50s to late 90s.
“There were certainly limits on some of the things we could do,” said Susan. “So much of what we do is about bringing people together. All of the social contact, staying active physically through fitness programs, going on outings, and providing educational opportunities – all those things are gone by the wayside for now.”
Programs like Good Neighbours’ Thursday Social Afternoon.
“We targeted older adults who were more socially isolated and had a harder time getting out. A bus would pick them up at their home, bring them to the centre, they’d have lunch, maybe some kind of activity, they would play games, sometimes a speaker would come in to talk, and then the bus would take them home,” said Susan.
“And for a lot of these members, that was it — that was their only social outing for the week. And now we can’t do that. This is such a tough time for everyone, but when you’re someone who’s older and living alone, that makes it so much harder.”
Until they can all meet again, Susan said staff are staying in touch and sending out regular communications to members who have email, which is two-thirds of their membership.
“We share any resource information we come across, any opportunities for them to participate in virtual presentations or workshops,” said Susan. “We also created a Facebook page for our members to communicate with each other during this time and share how their days are going.”
Despite the many helpful online resources available, Susan said one-third of the members don’t have access to technology.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is for those older adults who either don’t have a lot of family or don’t have access to technology,” said Susan. “When you have a computer or an iPad, there’s a lot you can do to stay busy. But when you don’t have that, it’s just your TV and your phone, and hopefully, you have some people you can talk to.”
Another major challenge Good Neighbours is experiencing during the Code Red restrictions is trying to do everything they do with a staff of 10 without assistance from their 250+ volunteers.
For instance, Good Neighbours has adapted their in-person congregate meal programs to be delivery only.
“We’re delivering to seven different apartment buildings,” said Susan. “The seniors need that meal. It’s an important thing for them and their wellness. It’s just really unfortunate that the congregate part is gone because now the people are all by themselves and not able to socialize.”
United Way Winnipeg donors support Good Neighbours’ outreach to isolated seniors and program development in the Elmwood/East Kildonan area.
“There’s a community church in Elmwood that is providing meals to people in the community for $2,” said Susan. “Our outreach coordinator collects the orders and then does all the deliveries in the area. She’s able to check on everyone and see how they’re doing and see if there’s anything else they need. We’re also doing a lot of phone conversations with people since we’re not doing home visits at this time.”
One of Good Neighbours’ initiatives was to purchase items such as large print crossword puzzle books, word search books, and wool, that staff would then drop off.
“These are things that will keep people mentally stimulated,” said Susan. “And we targeted older adults who don’t have access to technology and are living on a low income, so it’s an alternative to sitting and watching television.”
Susan said she hears the same message from members time and time again – that Good Neighbours is a place that really adds to their lives.
“We’re so grateful for all the support we receive from organizations like United Way Winnipeg; it makes such a difference in our members’ lives,” said Susan. “I do wonder sometimes; if we weren’t here, what would these people be doing?”