Seniors have worked their whole lives for the benefit of our community, and a team of volunteers is now working hard for those seniors in return – more than ever before. Quesnel’s Better At Home program is getting a big expansion to a wider circle of seniors in the area.
The United Way operates the Better At Home program on a provincial level, in partnership, on a community by community basis, with local organizations. Quesnel was part of the initial six-town pilot project. The doors opened 10 years ago as of this May 7. They get to celebrate their anniversary with a major expansion, the only one in the northern region this year.
“The perimeter used to be just Quesnel, and we could afford about 20 kilometres out in any direction,” said the founding program coordinator of Quesnel’s Better At Home chapter, Brenda Gardiner. “With this new expansion opportunity that was offered only to Quesnel-Better At Home, we are going to be able to service Wells, Alexandria, out almost to Nazko, and then down the old Prince George highway. That’s going to be big.”
The United Way’s regional community developer for the north, Sarrah Storey, was even more specific.
“Barlow Creek, Barkerville, Bouchie Lake, Moose Heights, Wells and Alexandria. They have already signed their MOUs (Memoranda of Understanding). We have been working on this since last year, and it is finally ready to go,” Storey said. “I really do think it boils down to great work by the awesome Brenda Gardiner; she really did a great job with making sure the seniors were taken of in the region. And that’s her baby, so she worked hard to make sure she left it in good hands and a support plan was in place after she was gone.”
That’s right, Gardiner is gone. She has retired and moved out of province.
In her letter of farewell to Better At Home supporters, she recounted with pride how 584 elders of the city had been formally taken into the program, and how she just processed work-order number 18,878 that has sequenced from No. 1 back in May of 2013 (2,232 in the past 12 months alone).
Some of these are for seniors who pay a deeply discounted rate for the service they need, but most are not required to pay anything.
Her greatest farewell gift, she said, was receiving the expansion she has hoped for for so long. She is spending the month remotely working with her replacement, Gayle Eberle, who has been coming into the Better At Home office for the past several weeks for hands-on training alongside Gardiner.
“We are a lively, very busy office, here, where we offer services to help seniors to stay in their homes longer,” Gardiner said. “In less than a year, my volunteers – these amazing people – provided these service delivery moments:
“Friendly Visits is when someone is lonely and a volunteer just goes in on a regular basis and visits with them. There was 138 service delivery moments of that kind;
“We provided 335 Transportation To Appointments, and that’s for seniors who don’t drive anymore and especially the winter is hard for them because maybe the bus service is difficult for them, or they have walkers to manhandle, or they are incontinent, and so many reasons;
“We arranged 106 snow-shovelling appointments;
“We arranged 239 grocery shopping service moments. So, we do grocery shopping, with or without the senior;
“And then 1,300 house cleaning service deliveries. That’s for cleaning a senior’s home twice a month. Almost more importantly, it is a connection to the outside world. When that house cleaner comes to clean for them, they might only see two people a month. Unfortunately the house cleaner has got to do their vacuuming, change their bed, take their garbage out, clean the toilets, all the duties of cleaning the house, so they can’t visit a lot, but they do chat, find out how their week is going, little contacts.”
Gardiner said there is a core group of about 50 active volunteers who carry out these services, and 113 total volunteers who do these various visits. Some specialize in the house cleaning or mowing a lawn or shovelling a driveway, but all are eager to help and the help is certainly needed.
Gardiner used a recent emblematic example. A local elder reached the point where they were no longer able to function on their own in their home, so they applied to move into an assisted living facility. They were accepted…in three years. For more than 150 weeks, they would be in that purgatory of unable to move into the facility, but unable to function safely on their own. Better At Home was at least a partial solution to get them through three years of unavoidable waiting.
“For my volunteers, I cannot emphasize enough, the relationship building that you have to do with people. These people are phenomenal. I have freaking amazing volunteers, who give their best to a program they believe in, to help other people,” Gardiner said.
Storey said she was personally motivated and inspired by the Quesnel program, because its collective passion and effectiveness was setting a bar for the rest of the province. When she one day reaches the point of needing help, as an elder, she hopes the system is working well and it will be because of programs like Quesnel’s.
“It will help more seniors age in place, which is the goal, in their familiar spaces, surrounded by their friends, their family, their animals, the neighbours they’ve known for so long.” Storey said.