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West End Seniors Network Vancouver BC: Seniors Helping Seniors

Ami Noss
By Ami NossFebruary 19, 2015
Seniors Helping Seniors: Canada's West End Seniors' Network

Seniors Helping Seniors: Canada's West End Seniors' Network

The West End Seniors’ Network (WESN) got its start in 1979 when a group of West End seniors in Vancouver BC Canada examined the findings of a field-study conducted by the undergraduates of UBC’s School of Social Work on the needs of senior citizens. From that start, WESN has become an indispensable resource for community members age 55 and older. “The West End has one of the highest concentrations of seniors out of any Vancouver neighborhood,” says Eric Kowalski, Executive Director of the organization. “The network was established in response to the growing need for ways for seniors to get support and remain active members of the community.”

With a staff of eight and some 230 volunteers, WESN operates out of three locations — Kay’s Place, an information and referral center; Barclay Manor, an activity center co-run by the West End Community Center; and Clothing and Collectibles, a thrift store that provides one of  the organization’s major revenue streams. Kowalski expects this year’s membership to reach 1,000 seniors, up from just over 600 in recent years.

For Seniors, By Seniors

Run by seniors, for seniors, WESN’s guiding philosophy is one of empowerment. In fact, Kowalski cites the “can-do spirit” with which many of WESN’s members have faced life’s challenges as one of the most inspiring aspects of his own involvement with the group.

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At WESN, seniors plan programming, staff the thrift store, and spearhead fund-raising efforts. Members can drop by Kay’s Place for a cup of coffee, or participate in WESN’s 30+ regular activities and classes. Kowalski cites weekly movies nights, regular card games, and language classes as being top draws, along with programs such as:

  • Happy Hookers Craft Group: This group gathers every Friday to share crafts and socialize. They’re also heavily involved in fundraising for the network, selling their crafts to raise money.
  • Men’s Breakfast Club: This monthly meet-up is currently hosted at Hamburger Mary’s Diner. No reservations needed.
  • Nordic Walking: Making use of Nordic Walking Poles, this group meets weekly to get some fresh air and exercise.

Preventing Senior Isolation Through Outreach

“Preventing isolation is a major key to senior health and well-being, and a top priority for us,” says Kowalski. To that end, WESN runs several outreach programs for those who are recovering from illness or injury or living with permanent disabilities that make it difficult for them to get out and about. These include:

  • Senior Peer Support: Seniors coping with difficult life circumstances can find emotional support and connections to relevant resources through this program.
  • Life Unlimited Senior Services: Daily calls, friendly visits, medical accompaniment, and grocery shopping services can all be arranged for those in need.
  • Better at Home: Subsidized light housekeeping and transportation services are available to those age 65+ who have mobility issues.

Community Advocacy

In addition to its numerous activities and services, the West End Seniors’ Network supports seniors through raising awareness of key issues impacting their quality of life. Most recently, the group has taken to YouTube and local radio to discuss the crisis of sharp rent increases in the West End. “Seven out of ten West End seniors are renters,” says Kowalski, “and low-to-moderate income seniors are spending upwards of 50% of their incomes on rent.” This means that any increases tend to cut directly into grocery and utility budgets. WESN doesn’t want seniors forced out of the neighborhood and is actively working to bring more stability to the Vancouver senior housing situation.

How to Get Involved

Kowalski encourages anyone who’s curious about the West End Seniors’ Network to drop by for a cup of coffee to try out a class. Annual membership costs $10, but fees can be waived for those experiencing financial hardship. “We’re a very friendly place,” says Kowalski. “We want everyone who’s interested to have the chance to get involved.”

What do you think about the idea of seniors helping seniors? Do you participate in any activities with a similar model? Share with us in the comments below.

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Ami Noss
Ami Noss

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