June 02, 2010

Seniors Survey could lead to service improvements

As published in The Erin Advocate

What do seniors in this area really need? East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) is conducting a major survey, to get answers that will help it plan improvements in the coming years.

The questions cover four topics: housing requirements, transportation needs, social activities and health services. Substantial deficiencies exist in all these areas, forcing many seniors to move away.

"From this survey, our goal is to be able to provide a community where our seniors will want to stay and where they will feel involved," said EWCS President David Robart-Morgan.

The Seniors Advisory Committee, including seniors from across the Rockwood-Erin district, has been working on the survey. It is available this week at libraries, churches and doctors' offices, through service clubs and seniors' groups, and at EWCS facilities. For information, call EWCS at 519-833-9696.

The survey is intended for anyone 55 and older, though a younger person could fill it out on behalf of a senior. It is anonymous, encouraging people to speak their minds freely. The goal is to make a survey available to everyone who is interested, even if it means delivering it personally, and providing assistance if requested.

"We will sit and help them fill it out," said Sherri Plourde, EWCS Manager of Seniors Services.

The process is being supported by a $25,000 grant from the federal government's New Horizons for Seniors program, which is designed to help non-profit organizations improve the quality of life for seniors. A staff member is being hired to support the work of the committee.

A separate survey has been designed to get input from groups that provide services for seniors. Once all the data is analyzed, there will be a final report, scheduled for August.

"We will distribute it to funders and government agencies," said EWCS Executive Director Glenyis Betts. "We can look at partnerships to bring in services to make it a more senior-friendly community."

The committee may be able to carry on as an independent Seniors Association that could seek funding for programs, and organize ways for seniors to help each other. EWCS is hoping to organize public meetings for people to share ideas, and will hold their Seniors Expo this fall.

Of course, there are many needs within current activities, plus programs or facilities that do not yet exist. The survey will help determine what is most important to the people who are directly affected.

Do we want a dedicated seniors' centre, with several separate areas, so different activities could be held at the same time? Currently, there is the permanent Seniors Room at Centre 2000, but in Rockwood, EWCS has only occasional use of space at Rockmosa Community Centre.

Do we want a retirement home or a nursing home? Do we want more apartments or condos? Do we want some smaller houses? "Low-cost" accommodation in Erin may not be possible under current market conditions, but could we hope for housing on the less extravagant side of the market?

Do we want better public bus service? Do we want better accessibility to public buildings? Do we want more specialized health services? Do we want better support to help people grow old in their own homes?

Do we want more fun?

Seniors certainly do not have to be passive recipients of social services. As they become an ever-larger part of the population, they will not only have the political clout to demand things that they need, but the community support to create what they want. If they set their sights high, there's no telling what might be achieved.