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conversation2 300x297Interview with: Karen Kew, Community Integration Coordinator, Immigrant Services, Guelph Wellington

CNPEA: What is a mutual aid model and how does your project use it to support immigrant seniors?

Karen: The mutual aid model has been used in various environments and is similar to a self-help or peer support group model where people come together to tackle a problem and where groups form under many features of a community development model such as: autonomy, empowerment, lifelong learning and knowledge sharing. Ideally the learning comes from the group itself. The challenges are not knowing: how the group will come together; how they will support each other; what type of challenges will arise; and how much organizational work they can do on their own.

What we have found in terms of group formation is that the seniors groups really appreciate the organizational support that we provide. We did some training around the self-help model with the expectation that the trained seniors would then go on to start and run their own groups. Without organizational support it was very difficult to get the groups going and for the organizer to stay motivated. We learned that seniors really need organizational support to thrive because it creates a support network for the group. This could be something as simple as helping the group find a space and making warm referrals in the community.

CNPEA: What are you planning to include in the community toolkit and how can it be used?

Karen: The community toolkit is our main deliverable and will be accessible on our website in early 2015. Our target audiences are seniors, community members and grassroots organizations. The tools walk you through, in plain English, very basic steps for how to start a group, including, recruiting volunteers, volunteer management and working with immigrant seniors. We have created content for the following five main areas; Understanding Elder Abuse, Working with Diverse Communities, How to Start a Group, Complementary Income and Lifelong Learning.

Within the Lifelong Learning section we focus on three types of learning that we have noticed immigrant seniors really appreciate: computer clubs for learning computer literacy, English language practice groups, and wellness programs. In the wellness program we are bringing together the experience of being an immigrant senior with elder abuse awareness and physical and mental health. The mental wellbeing component in particular is really important because there are so many factors for an immigrant senior that intersect with mental health, for example not speaking English can be a barrier to accessing services, which can lead to isolation and so on. If there is a group that, for example, wants to start a yoga group, we have a tool that identifies gentle yoga exercises and also how to incorporate elder abuse awareness, family dynamics and mental well-being lessons into the program.

CNPEA: What strategies has your project used to engage isolated seniors?

Karen: We identified very early on that language is a huge barrier that isolates seniors. We worked to promote the importance of providing interpretation services with service providers and their front line staff, recognizing that interpreters are helpful but cannot address all community development needs. We shifted our focus from recruiting to our programs seniors who already speak English to encouraging specific language communities to start their own groups. Our community development approach is to engage people in various communities to support these groups. We find that intergenerational groups and activities that involve immigrant youth in particular are the most successful.

When Project Wisdom first started in 2010, there was a perception that immigrant seniors would not easily speak about their difficulties. We’ve discovered that immigrant seniors can and do speak about their challenges—but only if a safe space exists. Our settlement counselors received elder abuse training and are using better methods to identify potential cases of abuse and connect seniors with service providers in the community. Interpretation really helps, especially if the senior is in the hospital or a crisis setting.

CNPEA: What else would you like to share about your project?

Karen: We are also exploring using social enterprise components inside a mutual aid model. This allows the program to provide a little bit of extra income for seniors, especially for those who have low or no English skills and who may be totally financially dependent on their adult children under sponsorship agreements, while still using group peer support as a way to reach isolated seniors. There is a Knit a Knot social enterprise group that meets fairly regularly, but are not a knitting group per say; rather, they meet to drop off patterns and pick up wool. This group works well because they are goal-orientated seniors who have a way to connect with others for peer support when needed. If they do not feel comfortable coming out of their house to attend formal programming they can still participate at home and know they are a part of something bigger. Even the little bit of extra income that they can earn through this program is very significant as it can make the difference of being able to say, buy a buss pass and have access to transportation or not. The group is very straightforward and participants knit very simple, easy to learn patterns such as headbands.

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Interview with Janet Wilson, Violence Against Women and Healthy Family Programs, Family Services Toronto

CNPEA: How does the Healthy Families, Safer Families Project peer support model work?

Janet: I’m a big believer in the peer support model because it’s not only about getting support to seniors, but also empowering seniors to give support. Peer seniors who provide support feel as though they have something offer which increases agency, self-efficacy and resilience. Seniors appreciate receiving support from someone who has had a similar lived experience, is from the same culture and who speaks their preferred language. Peer leaders were trained to provide peer support and were given information and resources that would be helpful to a senior experiencing abuse. In addition to peer support, seniors, their families and the community members at large were offered educational workshops on the issue of elder abuse. Each community used peer support in a way that suited their community.

CNPEA: Can you tell us about how you used different strategies to work with different ethno-cultural communities?

Janet: The Spanish speaking community, in Toronto, is very volunteer based, so in this community we trained 40 volunteers who wanted to be peer leaders, and offered honoraria for each day of training in which they participated. 10 of these trainers worked on advocacy issues related to elder abuse and presented at seniors groups in the community. Other peer leaders, who were already involved in volunteering with our partner organization on a seniors support line, were given more education and knowledge about elder abuse, so that when a senior calls they know how to guide them to appropriate services. We also continue to host a movie morning series, where we show a movie that has something to do with seniors and elder abuse. The movies are quite varied and can be romances, comedies or other dramas, as long as they have a scene related to an elder abuse situation. Our peer leaders then use the movie to lead the group of seniors into conversations about elder abuse.

In the Somali community volunteerism is not as prevalent. These seniors come from a war torn country and their priority is often settling and adjusting to life in Canada. As a result, we decided to hire 5-6 peer leaders who were also trained to provide peer support, information and referrals to other seniors. As seniors from ethno-cultural communities are often looking after their grandchildren, many are isolated. Because the Somali community in Toronto is in a specific geographic location, peer leaders were able to identify apartment buildings with a high density of Somali seniors living there. This facilitated connecting with seniors through door to door outreach. The seniors were offered accompaniment to appointments, doctor visits and so on. Through outreach we were able to recruit over 40 Somali senior volunteers. Peer leaders have also facilitated small groups, and have provided one to one support through drop-ins at seniors centres.

CNPEA: In what ways do you connect with isolated seniors? What strategies were most successful?

Janet: Both communities were connected with media, particularly the radio. So, even if a senior is isolated this was one way to connect them with the outside world and us to them. Through a Spanish-speaking radio station, we established a weekly show focusing on seniors’ issues, including the topic of elder abuse. We also managed to speak about the issue on three Somali radio shows.

The Spanish-speaking group created calendars, with elder abuse information and resources on each page. These calendars are in high demand and this year we are sending out 3000 copies. In addition to reaching out via radio and a calendar, we recognized that a lot of seniors would make more of an effort to attend programming that was fun and enjoyable rather than something on elder abuse directly. That’s why we started the movie mornings. They are more appealing for seniors

Outreach with the Somali was largely achieved by going door to door and by creating easily accessed space to hold drop-in programming. Instead of creating a calendar, the Somali community, having a strong oral tradition, decided to write a book of seniors’ stories and poems illustrating their resiliency, which will be shared with the whole community.

CNPEA: Working with two culturally and linguistically unique communities, Somali and Spanish-speaking, have you noticed any similarities in challenges or strengths?

Janet: In addition to what I mentioned earlier with regard to different engagement strategies, the Somali community, like other communities that have experienced war in their homeland their primary focus was on surviving the greater violence of war, rather than what’s happening in their own home. In fact, in the Somali language there is no word for ‘abuse’. Both immigrant communities had similar cultural values, where the family expects them to hand over their income and put it towards a family shared income. The potential for financial abuse is present in both communities. Because the peer support model is a very grassroots model, it appeals to and can be easily applied in most communities—so this approach proved to be extremely effective.

CNPEA: What advice would you give to a project hoping to explore ethno-cultural community engagement?

Janet: Ethno-cultural community work needs to be very flexible. The intrinsic aspects of community engagement are applicable, but have to be adapted to suit each community. Build on the strengths and go with outreach methods that work for them. We worked with these two communities in particular because we had a pre-existing relationship with them and were able to hire people in the community who know the people and the issues well. It is important to be continually thinking of how to develop community capacity by strengthening the capacity of both individuals and organizations within the community.

Over the course of our project, we had three knowledge exchange meetings, bringing together the two distinct communities to share their learnings, challenges and strategies. This was of great interest to both communities, as it supported them to identify their similarities and their differences.

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Esther Braden Carly Aasen Barb Hood with the NWT Seniors Society 300x225Interview with Barb Hood, Executive Director and Carly Aasen, Director

NWT Seniors Society

CNPEA: How does your project prevent abuse of older adults?

The emphasis of this project is including the whole community in preventing abuse of older adults. We have led 14 Creating Safe Community workshops with elders, service providers, youth, RCMP and others to build action plans that are community specific. During the first day of the two-day workshops we first identify what abuse looks like in their communities—this is important because it can look really different in each community. On day two of the workshop we develop action plans to address these issues. We believe this process is helpful because while people often are aware of abuse, they may not know how to address it.

12 Intergenerational Connections projects were supported through Leading the Way. Initiatives ranged from Grandmother Walks in Fort Good Hope to elders visiting the preschool in Tulita—but all involved interactions between older adults and youth. For example, during the grandmother walks older women would walk with grandchildren and teach them about the plants and how to harvest them to use for traditional purposes. Summaries of each initiative are being compiled into an Intergenerational Handbook for distribution around the territory.

Creating Safe Communities Workshop Ulukhaktok Participants 2013 300x225The NWT Seniors’ Society has also made an effort to support research related to older adults’, including a comparative research study on older adult abuse. This is huge for the North—the first comparative research study of this nature to have ever happened.

CNPEA: How does your project engage rural and remote practitioners? Do you have any promising tips you could share?

Often resources developed in the south are not transferable to a northern context. The Neighbours, Friends and Families project created specific videos relevant to the north, helping to provide engaging materials for service providers here. Overall, we have found that service providers are really interested in training as long as it is relevant and considerate of the language and culture of their community.

We have teamed up with other not-for-profit organizations and the Health and Social Services Department to help fund and deliver workshops to ensure older adults’ issues are represented and discussed. We have also done some training with nurses and social work students at the local college. In terms of engaging and maintain relationships, we find is it is best to work with the service providers that are already advocates in their community and provide them with any information or resources they require and we have available. Regular follow-up and consistent contact is important, because the rate of practitioner-turnover is relatively high in smaller northern communities.

CNPEA: What part of this project are you most proud of?

The relationships that have been created and the creditability this project has brought to the NWT Seniors’ Society. People are becoming more aware of us and trust our work. As more people learn about us, our Seniors’ Information Line is accessed and promoted in 33 distinct communities. The project itself is driven and guided by older adults. We are also proud of our research projects which have engaged over 500 adults and 100 service providers.

CNPEA: How do you plan to sustain this project?

We have a conference scheduled in the new year with the goal of discussing sustainability. We plan to bring together people who have been engaged in the project and other key players who care about the health and well-being of older adults to have a conversation about how we can move forward with limited funding. The results of our comparative research project will be presented during this conference. It is predicted that this study will give us a good idea of the current realities regarding elder abuse and potential next steps in moving forward. We hope our Strategy to Address Abuse of Older Adults in the NWT is adopted by legislature.

NWTSS LogoMore information on the Leading the Way—Networking to Prevent Abuse of Older Adults project can be found on the NWT Seniors Society website or the website of the NWT Network to Prevent Abuse of Older Adults.

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Thanks to Sandra Hurst and Susan McNeil for an excellent presentation at last week’s AGM on the newly published Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) best practice resource for nurses on abuse and neglect of older adults. Download their presentation, Preventing and Addressing Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults: Person-Centred, Collaborative, System-Wide Approaches: CNPEA Presentation Sept 11, 2014 RNAO.

Download the RNAO toolkit.

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i2i stock photoInterview with Sharon Mackenzie, Founder/Executive Director of i2i

“That was one of the richest mornings of my life. You have charged the seniors’ lives with more energy and openness, and charged the students’ lives with more compassion. Wow! It is indeed a model for Canada.” Shelagh Rogers (CBC Sounds Like Canada), commenting on her visit to an i2i classroom

CNPEA: Tell us a little bit about your project.

Sharon: The i2i Intergenerational Society grew out of a decade of intensive research that involved over 400 British Columbian children and older adults in the unique Intergenerational Immersion Model, The Meadows School Project. For two months thirty intermediate students moved into a makeshift classroom at a retirement home. The two generations dovetailed their calendars, combining curriculum, public service and one-on-one buddy meetings. Residents, students, staff, parents, children of the residents and school administration applauded the life-changing outcomes of the initiative. After seven years our society was established to:

  • Inform others of the health, social and educational benefits of intergenerational involvement
  • Assist in envisioning, implementing and sustaining respectful and purposeful intergenerational relationships.

We stage three levels of intergenerational bridge building:

  1. Baby steps- one time, brief interaction. For example, pre-school visits to a care home to perform a song for senior audience
  2. Mama steps- organized ongoing involvement, up to 90 m/wk, or monthly. For example, teens visiting to play board games
  3. Full immersion- Meadows School Project
CNPEA: Why is intergenerational learning so important and why is this project fundamentally an elder abuse initiative?

Sharon: This work is important because:

  1. It dramatically improves mental, physical, emotional and social health at a remarkably low cost by:
    • Connecting individuals from generations that are both confronted by ageism, ie children and seniors;
    • Providing opportunities and time for friendship, trust, empathy and understanding to develop on a one-to-one basis; and
    • Reducing isolation and loneliness
  2. It strengthens links between generations, building a more resilient community network.
  3. It reduces mistreatment in the future of all ages by instilling empathy and understanding across generations.

Intergenerational learning is proactive and counteracts ageism. If we invest in proactive, intergenerational learning opportunities now, then by the time today’s young reach adulthood, they will have an enlightened attitude towards ageing. Last year (2013) we entered Meadows School Project into the IFA International Innovative Intergenerational Solidarity Competition. Our project was short listed with five in the world. The judges, chaired by Dr. Beard, UN WHO, stated, “this project demonstrates forward-thinking advancements… and should be adopted worldwide.”

CNPEA: What does the curriculum cover?

Sharon: In the immersion project, there are three components: the government mandated curriculum, public service and 1-on-1 relationships. The students continue to follow their government-mandated curriculum with the teacher selecting appropriate topics for the intergenerational setting (e.g. history, geography, development and aging of the body, healthy lifestyles, story writing, reading, art, music, etc.). The second component is service, teaching students about work ethic and giving back within community (e.g. table setting, raking, etc). The third is a 1-on-1 component to build relationships (e.g. playing cards or visiting together).

CNPEA: What excites you most about this project?

Sharon: It is possible! It works! We can do this, collaboratively, and it is fun and simple. It does not require that you spend money. Instead it only needs you to do things differently: ‘put on intergenerational glasses’ and see how you can do what you have always done, but do it with an intergenerational perspective. We can help build real understanding between real people of different generations by merely giving them opportunities to become friends. Older adults and children are more the same than different and their joy in discovering this is what makes this approach irresistible. Respectful intergenerational relations are the building blocks to our future as a society.

CNPEA: How does your project address ageism?

Sharon: We address communication: face-to-face, eye-to-eye, minimize distractions and background noise, rephrase to assist understanding, say what you mean, mean what you say, be polite, smile. We create opportunities for children and older adults to meet as one person to another. In building their relationships, they eventually find they share many things in common all the way from loneliness, to the same birth month or perhaps a hearing disability. They inadvertently work through the issues of ageism together while becoming respectful and empathetic friends. In every one of our immersion projects, the children, when asked by parents how their visits with the seniors are going, have responded: “they’re not seniors, they are my friends.”

CNPEA: Earlier you mentioned something about giving responsibility to kids and older adults? Can you tell me more about that?

Sharon: It’s about doing WITH as opposed to doing FOR. As health care workers of aging adults and educators of the young, we are great as socially responsible citizens. We are caretakers of others and watch out for their best interests. But where I see us really missing a tremendous opportunity is in the area of personal responsibility. As teachers and health care workers we often do FOR. In fact a much stronger approach is to do WITH—a true collaborative approach. That is a healthy empowering participatory mode for everyone. I did a presentation for the National Seniors Council and the banner they displayed said ‘Working FOR Seniors’. As I stood up to present I mentioned that I thought their banner should say ‘Working WITH Seniors’. Most seniors are perfectly capable of doing things FOR themselves with only some facilitating assistance. Why would we not consider their contribution as extremely valuable, cost effective and—as the senior demographic broadens—sustainable? The mistake we make, in good faith, both for senior adults and children, is taking away self-dependence and interdependence. What our real job should be is as facilitators to empower youth and older adults to work together on their own collaborative initiatives. We still need to be there, but as partners not leaders. At i2i we have had success with our projects because they are built with collaboration from the onset. Even our Board ranges from a 23 year old President to a 99 year-old Board member. We know that you have to be the change you want to see. Intergenerational Day is now recognized in many communities across Canada on June 2010. Learn more about the i2i Intergenerational Society.


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