Elders In Touch is a new program for seniors at Bonnyville Friendship Centre.

Pauline Mawer, the centre’s research coordinator, was able to launch the program on Valentine’s Day. “Before the pandemic, and during and after that, loneliness and isolation were probably the biggest concern for me,” she said. “And I just wanted to do something that would change that for the women that I’m going to see. I had six women [February 14] and they all talked about how lonely it is and how isolated they felt.”

Through Elders In Touch, older women get together once a month to share stories and learn from guest presenters. Mawer said it’s important just to share conversation and connect.

Six women attended the first get-together last week. “We’ve got a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women. But just to hear them talk about their lives as children, as adults, married life, raising kids and all that—I just want this to be a safe place where they can come and just speak freely about what concerns them,” Mawer said.

“We just talked about stuff. I asked them a question like, where were you born and who were your parents and what did they do for a living? And the stories they told were amazing. It was good stories, and they shared right from their heart,” she said.

Elder Bredner Lewis inspired the attendees through dance and by telling his story.

“After he danced to the healing song, he shared his story and his journey from alcoholism in the street to where he’s at today,” Mawer said. “He is successful. He’s got a good job, and he’s providing for his family and he’s sharing his story and his dancing. The ladies were really touched by that.”

Mawer said she is excited by the possibilities. The women who attended last week said they would be interested in health, nutrition, exercise, or yoga sessions, and Mawer said she would love to invite young people to come and share with the elders.

According to Mawer, ageism is an attitude that can cut both ways—often the misunderstanding or lack of appreciation between generations can be mutual.

“If I bring in the seniors and the youth together, they can just hash out and learn from each other,” she said. “There’s a lot of things our elders can teach us if we just sit and listen. And that’s what I want to do. I just want to sit and listen and just be there to serve them.”

The Friendship Centre will start to move into their new facility next month, and it will take some time for the transition to take place. Mawer said once the move is complete, there will be an opportunity for the elder programming to expand.

“I’m hoping that it’s just going to grow and grow and we’re going to have a healthy elders program,” she said.