Bette Northover is sharp, independent and happy at the age of 97 and loving life at Grove Park Home.
She has her four children to chat with but knows there are many seniors who lead isolated lives without family contact or visitors.
“I think there are probably a lot of seniors that are not as lucky as we are in this nursing home because they’re lonely,” said Northover.
The Senior Wish Association is tackling the problem of isolation with seniors – the largest demographic of citizens in Simcoe County.
Barb Richards started the charity in 2011 with 100 seniors. That number has grown to 3,500 who are helped by Senior Wish programs.
Granting Wishes is one of those programs. Requests run the gamut from someone in hospice who wanted to hear the bagpipes one last time to another person who asked for a special movie and dill pickle chips. There was a man turning 95 who wanted a visit from his MPP and his favourite hockey team, the Barrie Colts.
“This generation of seniors are really reluctant to ask for anything,” said Richards.
Senior Wish aims to expand beyond Simcoe County but needs sponsors and volunteers.
Ashley Kelly is a married mother of two young children who gives of her time and says the payback is immeasurable.
“It makes you proud to be a volunteer with Senior Wish. To know that you’re helping so many people and to see the smiles on their faces,” Kelly said.
“A lot of people they put them in homes or away and they’re left there. They’re forgotten. So this helps them get remembered,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears.
Over 40 residents at Grove Park benefit from Christmas Wish, another very popular Senior Wish program.
Local senior facilities are asked to submit names of seniors who will be alone during the holidays to ensure they get a special gift package of wrapped donations like pyjamas, slippers and candies.
Grove Park hands out the gifts Christmas Day.
“It is inspiring and humbling to watch the reaction. Every little gift is opened with such joy. The joy on their faces is so sincere and humbling for all of us here,” said Linda Muszynski, Manager of Fund Development at Grove Park.
“What we really like about the program is that Senior Wish involves us in the decisions. They ask us who needs things and what do they need. Not just a random gift. We put lists on backs of doors of residents’ rooms around that time so staff can write down what they need.”
Lucillie Dalziel joined Senior Wish last fall and shudders to think at how big their numbers would be if Senior Wish was in every community.
“There are many seniors who see the visitors walk right past their room. It’s heartbreaking. Senior Wish gives them sense of belonging, community, self worth,” said Dalziel, who is trying to get corporations and individuals involved.
“We really do need the support. We have some corporate sponsorships but we really need more.”
Senior Wish programs also include Adopt a Senior, Seniors Helping Seniors, Intergenerational Programs and educational programs in schools.
“I think it’s a good idea if you can find that person that is lonely and hasn’t got family,” said Northover, who moved into Grove Park two years ago.
Richards founded the organization when she was an auctioneer and met seniors who were downsizing. She saw first hand how many were alone and decided to act.
“All of us want to know that someone cares about us and whether it’s someone in the community or someone that gives you a hug, or pats you on your shoulder. They say ‘I just know now that somebody out there cares’ and that’s pretty powerful in itself.”