Seniors’ Centre Without Walls is gaining momentum with Surrey-area seniors looking for new things to enjoy and learn about.
The dial-in program was launched last April as a project of Surrey Intercultural Seniors Social Inclusion Partnership Network, which involves six local organizations.
“It’s definitely taking off,” co-ordinator Edwin Chau said of the initiative, which is considered the first of its kind in B.C.
The free, telephone-based exchange allows seniors to connect with others from the comfort of their own home, for a variety of audio events including radio plays, fitness sessions, group chats, music trivia, gardening, cooking and more.
“The response has been good, and near the end of 2020 I think we had around 55-ish participants at any given time,” Chau said. “We continued with entertainment and education programming, a mix of those topics.”
The January “features” included a “(t)Ed Talks” discussion group focusing on astronauts and how they live in space, a “Reminiscence Kit” gathering that looked as different artifacts of the past, and a “Surrey Roads History” session co-hosted by the City of Surrey’s heritage department. Also, Surrey Libraries co-hosted a “Literature Club for Seniors” event online, as part of its Digital Branch strategy, in which a different literary piece is featured each week.
The program’s February calendar includes feature presentations about Chinese New Year, Black History Month and “Canadian Connections” with Valentine’s Day, along with a seminar about tinnitus, a chat with an end-of-life doula, a closer look at artifacts in the Surrey Heritage department collection, and a talk about local birds with a conservation scientist, among other events.
Also planned is “We’re All Artists: Creative Practices at Home,” a Monday-morning art class held in partnership with Surrey Art Gallery, with instructors April Davis and Claire Moore.
The art program attracts seniors for various reasons. Susan Match was drawn to the art class when she began losing her sight. She calls the class a “life-saver” and says it is helping her brain and her sight. “I’m growing,” she says. “I’m not an artist. I’ve always done management (positions) but I actually see improvements now. It’s working!”
Interested seniors can register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning Chau at 604-531-9400, extension 205. On the web, look for program details at comeshare.ca.
“Monthly, I try to have at least one or two feature education-type things on top of the recurring programs, so it’s a mix,” Chau explained. “Some run weekly, it’s a variety. Sometimes there are two or three programs a day.”
The Seniors’ Centre Without Walls program sounds like something designed for these pandemic, physically-distanced times, but it was actually in the planning stages in the fall of 2019, months before COVID-19 hit this province in a significant way.
“This program was going to happen whether COVID came up or not, it just so happens that launch date lined up with when the (pandemic) happened. It was a crazy coincidence, not actually planned,” Chau told the Now-Leader last June.
Chau, a Fleetwood-area resident who works out of the Seniors Come Share Society office in South Surrey, said Surrey’s SCWW is based on similar programs in Ontario and Manitoba.
The original plan was to launch the program in a much smaller way, with three call-in sessions per week, but it all took off during the early days of the pandemic.
“We want to build it gradually over time,” Chau noted in June. “It is set to be a multi-year project, but then the remote model of this project just fit the bill, it was perfect, and we ended up ramping it all the way up to two or even three programs a day, every single day of the week.”
Surrey’s SISSIP network involves Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS), City of Surrey, Seniors Come Share Society, SOURCES, Semiahmoo House Society and Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association (FRAFCA).