The point is – seniors are a mixed bag. They are a lot like everyone else, just older.
That said, there are very real challenges associated with aging. As our bodies and minds grow older, our strength and acuity naturally begin to fade – but this doesn’t happen to everyone in the same way or at the same rate. Many people remain healthy, strong, and vibrant as they grow older, while others become increasingly frail over time. There are a lot of reasons for this decline, both genetic and environmental, with a lot of socio-economic factors in the mix. It’s this set of circumstances we focus on when United Way Healthy Aging develops resources and supports for people as they age.
United Way British Columbia (UWBC) manages a portfolio of Healthy Aging programs that provide important non-medical services to older adults, which help them live at home longer, remain physically active, stay connected to friends, and remain engaged in their communities. Active, Connected, and Engaged: that’s our mantra. There are currently six different programs in the United Way Healthy Aging portfolio, all of which are delivered locally by community-based service agencies. This amazing network of service agencies is the life force of United Way Healthy Aging.
When the pandemic took hold early in 2020, we were asked to take on a leadership role in the Government of British Columbia’s Safe Seniors, Strong Communities (SSSC), an emergency COVID-19 response initiative. We immediately enlisted our Healthy Aging network, and everyone pulled together to help older adults living at home stay safe and connected during the pandemic. Better at Home program providers were a huge part of the SSSC effort. They were joined by other program providers from the Healthy Aging network, as well as agencies from the broader community-based seniors’ serving sector.
Active, Connected, and Engaged: that’s our mantra.
We are so grateful for the amazing community service workers and for the thousands of volunteers who stepped up this past year to provide ongoing support and services to older adults in need throughout the province. And while 2020 was by no means a normal year, we were able to hold the course and meet many of our long-term strategic objectives, like expanding the number of Better at Home programs available in British Columbia (imagine being a non-profit community agency and starting up a new program during a global pandemic – talk about neighborhood heroes!).
There are now 81 community agencies delivering Better at Home services throughout British Columbia, with more to come in 2021. We also stuck to our schedule and launched two brand-new programs, as planned, earlier this year (the Navigation & Peer Support program and Digital Literacy pilot project), and we’ll kick off a new Men Sheds program this fall. As I write this, United Way Healthy Aging funds 127 volunteer driven, non-profit agencies who deliver some 195 Healthy Aging programs in communities across BC.
The work of strengthening connections and supporting seniors continues, even as the COVID crisis subsides, because the need for these kinds of services will continue. Helping people stay active, healthy, and engaged as they age is Healthy Aging’s reason for being, and we are proud of the part we play in strengthening connections that support seniors in need in local communities.
Kahir Lalji is the Provincial Director of Healthy Aging by United Way – a department of the newly amalgamated United Way British Columbia (UWBC). Kahir holds a Master Degree in Gerontology from Simon Fraser University and serves on the Board of HelpAge Canada, BC211, and Destination Imagination. To learn more visit the Healthy Aging webpage, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This feature story is an extension of UWRA’s Aging in Place research conducted in 2019, funded by a grant from the Cinda A. Hallman Memorial Fund, which addresses two of the recommendations made by UWRA:
1) Amplify United Way’s commitments to older adults, and
2) Drive knowledge sharing across the United Way network.
UWRA is excited to spotlight United Way British Columbia (UWBC) and its portfolio of Healthy Aging programs