March 12, 2003
The Honourable Stan Woloshyn
Minister of Seniors
425 Legislature Building
Edmonton, AB T5K 2B6
Re: Current and Future Roles and Needs of Seniors’ Centres in Alberta
Dear Minister Woloshyn:
We were pleased to learn that the Seniors Advisory Council for Alberta and the Alberta Council on Aging have completed a study of Senior Centres in Alberta with the purpose of determining the role and future sustainability of Senior Centres.
As a result of funding provided by the federal New Horizons program, many Senior Centres have been established in both rural and urban areas of the province. There are Senior Centres in surprisingly small towns, and they are liberally distributed across rural Alberta. They are ideally situated to be a focal point in the community for programs for older people, such as health promotion/prevention, outreach and other community service programs as mentioned in your report.
Many centres are operated strictly by volunteers who are not likely to have the time, and may not have the expertise to establish a program to review the needs and expectations of present and/or future members, or to develop a community network. Community organization requires considerable skill, and is not something that can be developed immediately, since each organization must come to understand the benefits available to them from such cooperation, and not feel threatened by another organization.
Since the Alberta Council on Aging has a large membership of seniors located throughout the province, perhaps they might take on the role of assisting and encouraging Senior Centres to expand their programming to meet the needs of “new” seniors, and to become more active participants in their community. The Alberta Council on Aging would likely need some financial support to hire a person trained in community organization in order to achieve this goal.
The Alberta Association on Gerontology strongly supports your suggestion that Family and Community Support Services be involved in helping Senior Centres to review and develop relevant programs. Developing outreach programs to help identify the needs of isolated seniors has been attempted by many Senior Centres but often they are unable to continue such services because of lack of funding and lack of training for volunteers who have an interest in participating in this type of program.
While most Senior Centres are independent and raise their own funding, resources are scarce and most are probably therefore unable to establish any of the extra programs needed to provide the vital functions for older people mentioned in your report. Exploring options aimed at finding sources of funding for maintaining, sustaining and expanding the Senior Centre in the community is critical.
We note that you mention that Senior Centres might be used by a broader spectrum of individuals. We would not want to see changes that would dilute Senior Centres’ focus on older people. These centres provide important opportunities for older people to experience social interaction and to use their skills or develop new ones. Older people continue to need these types of experiences.
We would also like to mention the small ethnic Senior Centres which abound particularly in some of the larger communities of Alberta. These centres are valuable in providing a place where people can congregate with others who speak their own language, and who come from a culture with which they can identify. These ethnic centres also serve as a place where immigrant seniors can gain information about services, as well as about the culture in which they are now living. This is a very important function and should not be overlooked.
Senior Centres can be a valuable resource as you indicated in your report. We agree that efforts must be made to assist them both financially and with the operation of the centres if they are to reach their true potential to benefit the citizens of Alberta.
We support the recommendations of the study group regarding the role of the Government of Alberta. Senior Centres can benefit from assistance of the province in obtaining reliable ongoing funding for projects, initiatives, facility maintenance and centre administration. We realize that a partnership between government, associations and the communities themselves is essential to the full implementation of these benefits.
Corinne Schalm, President
Alberta Association on Gerontology
cc: Seniors Advisory Council on Aging
Alberta Council on Aging