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Helping seniors stay active and connected while self isolating

In this Prime feature we learn about what the Guelph Wellington Seniors Association is doing to keep their members active, nourished and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic

Maintaining sufficient social distancing and self-isolation efforts are challenging for everyone but they are even more challenging for people tasked with helping seniors who are isolated from family and friends.

“I volunteer at St Joseph’s Health Centre and they have been closed to both volunteers and visitors for more than two weeks now,” said Connie Shaw, membership and marketing committee chair for the Guelph Wellington Seniors Association. “It has been very stressful to everyone and I give the staff there great credit because they are all working extra time and taking on extra duties.”

Those extra duties include familiarizing seniors with technology they might not have used before.

“The residents are trying the best they can,” said Shaw. “A lot of the connections being made now are by staff who are facilitating telephone and video connections with family, which is really great. So, there are some good things happening and people are connecting in different ways. That is what we have been about. Connecting in different ways”

The GWSA has more than 2,600 members and more than 500 professionals and volunteers that operate more than 40 activity groups and services.

“We want to let the wider community know that we are still in business,” said Shaw. “We are still offering contacts and people should know how to be in touch with us.”

Members are encouraged to visit the GWSA website to stay informed about services, activities and other news and information. They can also sign up for monthly email updates.

“We started the update just under two years ago and most of our members have signed up for it,” said Shaw. “It is one of these mid-month quick updates. That’s the way we have been handling it and now with the virus and all the information on that we have been sending out about two a month. It’s a good way of staying in touch and finding out what’s happened and what information is where.”

COVID-19 poses a high risk to seniors and that prompted centres across the country to close including the Evergreen Seniors Community Centre where the GWSA provides most of its programs.

They were forced to adapt quickly to the situation and adopt new ways of delivering their services.

“As soon as we closed on March 13 and suspended all of the face-to-face programs, we went right into overdrive,” said Shaw. “We are connecting with people on telephone, computer and video conferencing and any other way going to maintain programs and to maintain contacts because we do have a portion of our members who are housebound, who are part of our community support services.”

A COVID-19 Response Team was formed to maintain services and provide members with reliable sources of information.

“We have been very engaged with them in terms of exercise, meal sharing, meal planning, healthcare and education,” said Shaw.

Coordinators for the Cook and Eat nutrition program responded quickly to make sure people are delivered meals and fresh produce.

“Of course, when the building closed down the kitchen closed down,” said Shaw. “The chef of the Evergreen Centre went into high gear and she made all kinds of frozen meals that we have been able to take out to our shut-ins.”

Many of the activities were easily adapted to operate remotely. For example, a GWSA quilter is inviting people to join her on Zoom for stitch-along classes on Monday afternoons and the GWSA Canoe Club has proceeded online with its safety training without missing a stroke.

A team of computer mentors are offering free training sessions to help familiarize members with online platforms and technologies such as Zoom, Skype and Facetime so they can access services and stay connected with family and friends.

Shaw said she is impressed with the resilience and positivity of GWSA members.

“I have a group of about 10 ladies that are part of this exercise program at the Evergreen Centre and we have been sending emails back and forth since the beginning mostly just to encourage each other but we also have a great sense of humour,” said Shaw. “Some of the gals lived through the depression and have been sharing depression stories. Most of the stories are hopeful.”

She said we could learn a thing or two about being hopeful from a generation that has made it through its share of crises.

“If you look at what people went through during the depression and other world crises, we’re not doing too bad,” said Shaw. “We have the comforts of home and ways to stay in contact with each other. We are very privileged in that way.”

For more information about GWSA programs and services, read their monthly newsletter The Sentinel or subscribe to the email updates visit

If you don’t have internet access call the GWSA hotline at 226 699-0731