From left, Susan Buckingham, Gwen MacDougall, Del Leney, Sharon Cook, and Dave Nicholson. GLORIA KATCH PHOTO

Special to the VOICE

In celebration of Seniors Month in Ontario, Pelham’s Seniors Advisory Committee is hosting the grand opening of its Active Living Lounge, June 14 from 2 to 4 PM. The new lounge will be located on the second floor of the community centre, overlooking a panoramic view of Highway 20, and a glassed-in activity room where motivated seniors exercise.

Symbolic? Perhaps, but Sharon Cook, Chair of the committee, believes the group will be equally active fulfilling its goals and objectives designed to improve the quality of life for community elders.

While there are many issues affecting seniors, the committee is “genuinely interested in making things better, wherever we can,” Cook said.

The new lounge will have several tables, including card tables, as well as a computer area for seniors to source out and share information. More importantly, the lounge is designed for seniors to drop in and interact with other seniors. Cook noted that geriatric specialists and psychologists’ research indicate seniors are prone to loneliness, isolation, and a sense of disconnect from their communities. The committee believes the lounge will provide a solution to this problem for locals.

Julie Cook, who is the Recreation, Culture and Wellness Programmer for the Town of Pelham, decided to develop the space, said Sharon Cook (no relation).

“One of our goals is getting people to come out and have a cup of tea, and have them come out and participate,” said Sharon. The committee is hoping all the leisure activities, like exercise classes, the walking track and pickle ball, will have a “spillover effect,” and result in more people dropping in after working out. With the number of seniors currently in Pelham, and a population that is constantly aging, the committee feels this area will be well utilized.

They are also interested in hosting a speaker’s series there, where they can discuss topics like scams, assistive devices, health and mental health care, transportation, and all things important to senior living.

“We have to get seniors involved and interested,” which to Cook includes stimulating their minds and broadening their interests.

Cook told the Voice that scams in particular are “a big deal, because they target seniors. They’re a real big deal,” adding, “I know of a person who had to pay off their home,” because of a scam. In reference to one fraudulent group, which poses as officials from the Canada Revenue Agency, millions of dollars have been bilked from Canadians and particularly seniors, she asserted.

The senior’s committee also has representatives from other groups and organizations, like Melissa Stewart from Pelham Cares, and Ann Villalta from the Joint Accessibility Committee, to input new information. Councillor Marianne Stewart is council’s representative on the committee, and will add guidance and support. Elena Simone-Simonetti and Kenneth Olsen are also members.

This year’s theme for senior’s month includes, “Aging Strong, Respect and Protect Seniors.” For the grand opening of the lounge, Cook noted all the details have yet to be finalized, but she believes the committee’s goals concerning advocating for seniors, and giving them a voice shows respect. Developing networks, considering health, housing and transportation are the three key issues affecting seniors.

One of the committee’s priorities is to improve senior’s housing, and Cook is working with three different builders of senior’s residences, including high rise apartments, townhouses, and a builder that develops homes resembling cottages. Appropriate housing can often be smaller homes that are accessible with everything on one level, as many seniors are opposed to moving into retirement homes. The key is to build affordable houses, as many townhouses are in the $600,000 range and not accessible to seniors on a fixed income.

Member Del Leney said that a “Home Share program” exists in Hamilton, for seniors who want to share their living space with another tenant after their spouse has passed away. Currently, the members were unsure if a similar policy was ever adopted for elders in Pelham. Regardless, Cook added, “We want people to stay in Pelham.”

When asked if they were working with the Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), Cook responded, “I don’t know if it’s the job of the committee to deal with CCAC, but this is not our main focus. Let’s keep people from needing CCAC.”

If anything, this committee wants its goals to be reflective of all older persons and their needs, said member Susan Buckingham, reiterating the committee’s, “It’s not a one size fits all,” mentality.

One of the biggest challenges for seniors in Pelham is transportation, pointed out Cook, who approached council a few months ago to purchase a second bus, so there would be more routes available, particularly from rural Fenwick to the downtown area and the MCC, where services are available. She notes there is a need to improve the level of service for people in wheelchairs, since this service has to be booked in advance and is not always readily available. Ensuring that Pelham is accessible to persons with mobility issues is one of the requirements under the World Health Organization. Sharon complimented Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato for her efforts on improving accessibility.

“When there is an issue, she is right on top of it. She is A-1 in my books.”

Julie Cook stated the Town’s terms of reference were established by council to determine the committee’s actions, and these requirements needed to be addressed. When asked if a needs assessment was undertaken, Sharon Cook replied there was a senior’s fair last September, during which people were asked for their opinions in reference to seniors’ programming. The response was more opportunities for physical activity, such as pickle ball and exercise classes.

“We’re seeing it now,” she said.

In future, the advisory committee wants to obtain more expertise on persons who suffer from dementia and strokes. Julie Cook noted it was difficult to find leaders on these respective medical issues, as well as finding the resources to pay for them. While the senior advisory committee’s mandate is “very broad,” in other respects, the goals also have to “align with council’s wishes,” she said.

The group also broadly defines “senior,” and at what age that status is conferred. A few members laughed at how the age of seniors has increased from 55 as an excuse for companies to save money when offering discounts to “seniors.” The committee prefers to use the term “older persons” when referring to the proposed activity lounge and its participants.

“As you get older that [senior] year gets pushed up,” said Sharon Cook, with a chuckle.