Volunteerism is strong among the senior population, according to Alberta’s minister of housing and seniors.
Minister Lori Sigurdson was in Okotoks on Aug. 16 to have tea with residents at Sandstone Lodge. She had spent the morning in Calgary handing out the Minister’s Seniors Service Awards, which recognize groups and individuals who volunteer to support seniors.
She said most of the people recognized for helping seniors were seniors themselves.
“That’s something we can be very proud of here in Alberta – we actually have the highest percentage of seniors who volunteer in their communities across all of Canada,” said Sigurdson. “We’re pretty proud of that and we want to say thank you to the many people who contribute and support seniors to be able to age in their communities close to family and friends, where we know they want to be.”
Okotoks resident Eileen Swan is one of many local volunteers who works with seniors. She was recognized with the Heart of Okotoks award in May for her dedication to Tudor Manor residents, where she began volunteering when its doors opened in 2013.
“I retired finally when I was 68, and I had worked all my life,” said Swan. “It was four and a half years ago, and I volunteered because I love working with people and I found that the residents at Tudor Manor enjoyed having somebody there.”
Swan had been an x-ray technician for years before moving into vocational rehabilitation, which she did for 24 years. In that job she was handling insurance and legal auto claims, dealing with people on a regular basis.
Working with people every day was what she loved, and what made her look for ways to get involved with people in her retirement. She’s enjoyed every minute at Tudor Manor.
“I found I could make them laugh, I was somebody there for them,” said Swan. “I felt it was just so comfortable.”
Her main job is to call bingo on Thursday afternoons, but she also takes seniors shopping at Walmart or on other excursions and comes to help out for monthly birthday party celebrations. She puts in anywhere from two to 10 hours per week, depending on what’s happening at the manor.
Every time she leaves, it’s with a smile on her face as she recalls conversations or moments through the day.
“I get so much out of it, and I love it,” said Swan. “They appreciate everything so much and I get just as much fun out of it as they do.”
She loves it so much, that the odd time she can’t make it in for her regular volunteers shifts she feels as though something is missing, she said.
Swan said it’s important to work with seniors and show them the respect they deserve. It’s part of what drives her.
“I’m old myself and I guess I find a lot of times, not everybody, but a lot of people are very condescending to older people,” she said. “You see it in restaurants and all that, and it ticks me off to be quite honest.
“I like to tease them, to make them laugh, to talk to them like a regular person, because that’s who they are and how they should be treated.”
Outside of the lodges in town, Okotoks boasts a large number of senior volunteers and also a lot of people from a range of age groups who volunteers to help the seniors population.
“Our volunteer driver program, for example, has adults of all ages and the primary client of the driver program would be seniors,” said Sian Anderson, Okotoks FCSS volunteer administrator. “I would say we have a pretty good mix in Okotoks at this time.”
She said many seniors volunteer through organizations like the Okotoks Seniors Centre, where they may help run programs or informal activities aimed at their own demographic.
Some programs, like Snow Angels, are almost entirely youth and younger adults volunteering to help seniors in town, she said.
“We’re pretty lucky in Okotoks with the connection we have with all demographics,” said Anderson. “It’s not one that is doing more necessarily, it’s just dependent on what the opportunities are.”