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LIFE AFTER 65: Giving back
When the time comes to finally put aside one’s career and go into retirement the transition into the next stage of life can be difficult.
People who are accustomed to a busy lifestyle may at first be relieved to get a break, but as the days turn into weeks many seniors long for a return to deeper purpose.
Brad Gaze, 71, says some seniors join service clubs like the Tsawwassen Boundary Bay Lions Club because after retirement they’ve got more time than they know what to do with.
He recalls the time a new member was dropped off by his wife and she motioned Gaze over to talk.
“She said to me, you keep him busy. Keep him out of my hair,” says Gaze, chuckling with the memory.
It isn’t that the ranks of service clubs are only filled with seniors. In fact, Gaze joined the Lions Club in 1988 at the age of 46, fresh from the City of London, Ont. As a new member of the community, he was looking for friendship.
“I guess it was more of a social thing,” says Gaze. “I’d always been involved in the church back in London.”
He was quickly impressed by how much time and effort the membership put into projects that help the community. In the years since, Gaze finds that service clubs can provide immediate help for people in the community who might otherwise have to wait for help from a government agency or insurance broker.
Earlier this year the Lions Club raised $2,000 to help a family who escaped with just the clothes on their backs when a fire consumed their Tsawwassen home. The Lions helped gather food, clothes and furniture from the community.
“With a lot of service clubs we’re able to step in for assistance without a lot of the red tape.”
Leslie Abramson, 69, knows firsthand how important a role seniors can play in volunteering for service clubs. As a Rotarian, she says it’s not just the “sweat equity” of donating their time, but the lifetime of experience to add value to projects.
“We should be capitalizing on reaching out to more seniors, encouraging them to give back some of the expertise they have,” she says.
Rotary focuses on youth mentorship and recruitment through high schools and universities so that their membership ranks continue to grow even as older members age and pass away. Abramson says seniors need to provide mentoring opportunities for the next generation of Rotarians.
“That’s what people need, is guidance. And we have so much wealth out there because look at our demographics of Ladner and Tsawwassen.”
Delta’s senior population, much like the rest of Canada, is growing quickly. According to the 2011 Census, the number of Delta residents who are 65 years and over reached 15,460, an increase of 21.9 per cent from the 2006 Census. The median age in Delta increased to 42.8 years, more than two years higher than the rest of Canada.
With so many seniors living in Delta, it is unsurprising to see such high participation rates in volunteer activities. Not only do seniors provide important volunteer roles in service clubs like Rotary and the Lions, their efforts in helping fellow seniors through health problems is critical.
Alice McSweeney, a fit and vital-looking 86-year-old Tsawwassenite, is a former recipient of the caregiver of the year award by the BC Association of Stroke Recovery.
Her retirement in 1984 at the relatively early age of 57 (the average age today is 66 years) was short-lived following her husband’s stroke in 1990. Over the course of the next 16 years she dedicated her life to caring for Jack and others in stroke recovery.
“He was quite disabled,” recalls McSweeney. “He never recovered his speech.”
Despite the stroke, the couple shared their moments together in meaningful ways. They would go to Imperial Village every day, rain or shine, he on his scooter, and she on her feet.
It’s been nearly eight years since he passed away, but she continues to go the Tsawwassen stroke recovery group every Tuesday and offer whatever help she can to stroke survivors and their caregivers.
“A lot of people think it’s sad to go somewhere people have had strokes but it’s a really good atmosphere.”
McSweeney, a psychologist for 36 years, continues to provide care and comfort to people outside her support group. Her cousin is in care at Kin Village and she goes frequently to keep her company, do chores, or run errands.
“I like to go and get her out of the house and out to dinner. It’s not good to be inside all the time.”
Abramson says that volunteering can also provide a crucial intergenerational link between seniors and children. When the Boys and Girls Club was going to built in Ladner next to the McKee House, some seniors were concerned about children with behavioural issues.
But Abramson said many of those children don’t have a mother or a father to look up to and learn from. She suggested getting a program going where seniors could come to the club and teach the children how to cook or bake or other important life lessons.
“Well, you could just see those seniors–the ladies especially–poof up. Oh, I could teach them!”
Abramson says the two organizations now have a great relationship. The men will come over and set up games or books and the women will set up the kitchen and have something to share when the kids arrive.
“The kids would come in, drop their books, and either go to the kitchen or go to the big room with the men and it was such a great interaction with the young kids and the seniors.”
Volunteer organizations are well aware of the challenges of recruiting fresh blood to the ranks. Gaze says many members in the Lions Club are 25 to 30 years in, but many young people are too busy these days.
“With service groups you used to join the one your father belonged to. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
And while giving back to the community is a side benefit to joining a service club it’s not the only reason.
“Being part of a group, giving you a kind of purpose. Friendship, too. I don’t know how many friends I’ve achieved through Lions Club.”
Gaze says helping people or organizations can be a fun way to set and achieve goals that can be absent from life after retirement.
“So this sort of fills the void for that, too.”