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Combatting loneliness: $80k coming for Sault seniors to get involved in community

Sault MP Terry Sheehan announces funding for programs to get seniors involved in walking and paddling tours, other activities

Speaking in front of a large tourism industry canoe at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site, Sault MP Terry Sheehan announced over $80,000 in federal government funding on Friday for four local projects designed to help seniors combat loneliness and isolation by getting involved with each other and sharing their knowledge with younger generations.

“We’re here to support our seniors,” Sheehan said.

“They're going to represent about 25 per cent of the population by 2051 so that means we have to plan for that future. We need to be ready to support an aging population which could be close to 11 million people in 15 years, so we need to have the right set of programs and policies in place.”

The funding comes from the federal government’s New Horizons for Seniors Program.

The NHSP provides grants to organizations that help seniors get out of social isolation by allowing them to get involved in community projects, combat ageism and raise awareness about fraud and elder abuse.

The funding announced Friday includes:

  • $25,000 for the Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy to enable seniors to develop and participate in a Métis-led historical walking and paddling experience to promote an active lifestyle and interact with younger generations
  • $12,769 for Extendicare Van Daele’s Java Project programming to help at-risk, lonely residents and those suffering from dementia to get socially involved
  • $21,900 for the Edgewater Condo Social Committee in which seniors have repaired and enhanced Edgewater Condo’s south green space to bring seniors together
  • $22,416 for The Ontario Finnish Resthome Association for swings for seniors to enjoy in an outdoor setting and provide a chance to interact with others

Representatives for each group expressed their appreciation for the funding and what it means for seniors.

“The funding is helping a component of this program which is about engagement of seniors. The Metis seniors are absolutely in such a circle of connectivity, caring and wisdom, knowledge and storytelling,” said Joanie McGuffin, Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy executive director while standing beside a conservancy canoe and three Metis guides near the canal.

“Our elders made sure that we knew where we came from and this project will get some of our elders out onto the canoe and get speaking to young folks,” said Mitch Case, Region 4 Councillor for the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario.    

“On a weekly basis our residents are given the opportunity to participate in Java group programs designed to bring residents together for emotional and social connections,” said Stephanie Montgomery, Extendicare Van Daele resident programs manager.

“We’ve been running the programs now for a couple of months and we find that our residents are engaging more in programs, developing friendships with each other. We know COVID isolation was a big hurdle in our homes and these programs are bringing the residents together again and it’s wonderful that our homes are coming together again, as homes,” Montgomery said.

“We had this plot of land on the south side of our building. You couldn't really walk on the grass but as a result of this funding we recently landscaped and leveled a 1,200 square foot piece of land, we had a cement pad put in with wheelchair access and a gazebo installed and bought new furniture. It’s just delightful to watch and there’s a buzz in our building that we haven’t had in a long time,” said Edgewater Condo’s Roger St. Jules.  

“We erected a number of swings, fully accessible swings for seniors and it provides a safe space that is accessible for seniors, to be able to spend time with one another and perhaps more importantly to spend time with their families. The very first swing that we put in, we had lineups for it,” said Paul Belair, Ontario Finnish Resthome Association CEO.

The federal government proposed an additional $20 million over two years, with $10 million in 2022-23 and $10 million in 2023-24, for an expanded New Horizons for Seniors Program to support more projects that improve the quality of life of seniors and help them participate more in their communities.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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