Seniors step up when it comes to community involvement

By Roderick Benns

United Way unveils large scale community garden project
Seniors volunteer in many ways, including at the community gardens, on service clubs, and at non-profits.

While the best outcome for any community is to have the perfect balance of younger, middle-aged, and senior population, there’s no denying how important the senior demographic has become to the Kawartha Lakes area.

In fact, according to the 2016 census data more than 34 per cent of our City’s population is over the age of 60, much greater than the provincial median.

Rebecca Mustard is manager of economic development for the City. She says seniors “are incredibly important to communities.”

“From an economic standpoint, they contribute in many ways including purchasing goods and services from the community,” Mustard says.

Of course, it’s not all about buying power. According to the Action for Seniors Report from the Government of Canada in 2014, 80 per cent of seniors participate frequently (at least monthly) in at least one social activity, 36 per cent perform volunteer work, while 13 percent participate in the work force.

That volunteer aspect is critical, given how much our society relies on the charitable giving of time by others. Service clubs, for example, have always been important to communities.

Simon Wickens is president of the Omemee and District Lions Club, which has been around since 1957. He says half the club members are 70 and older – something that comes with both positives and negatives.

“It’s great, because they’re willing to put in the time (on club initiatives), but “physically they can’t do as much,” Wickens says.

“The majority of people who get involved are seniors, in both the Lions Club and the Legion,” he says of the experience in Omemee.

Wickens points out that they have managed to recruit some young people but others are put off by the time commitment because they’re raising families and working hard, “but they’re not necessarily well paid,” he points out.

Today’s economy is nothing like it was decades ago and many working age people now have to work harder than ever just to make ends meet, Wickens points out.

“It’s important we get new members though, to do the good work in the community that we do.”

According to the Action for Seniors Report, a large percentage of seniors want to be active and engaged in their community, and it does often come through volunteering. Thirty-six percent of seniors perform volunteer work, with volunteers over 65 contributing about 223 hours a year, compared to the national average of 156 hours. In fact, in 2012, baby boomers and senior adults contributed more than 1 billion volunteer hours.

Mustard says that meeting the unique needs of seniors was identified as an “economic opportunity” for Kawartha Lakes communities.

“The Age-Friendly Business Guide and Planning Tool is a great tool created recently to help businesses think about how to serve their older customers well,” she says.

“Having said that, it’s not just seniors that benefit from businesses who create welcoming and accessible spaces. People with disabilities, parents with children in strollers and others with limitations all appreciate the ability to access stores easily.”

In the City of Kawartha Lakes’ Age Age-Friendly Project Assessment by the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit, older adults living in CKL consider their respective communities as wonderful places to live.

“CKL villages were also described as very tight-knit communities. When asked to elaborate, residents quickly pointed to good friends, neighbours, seniors clubs, churches, and plenty of social activities geared toward older adults. With so many long-time residents of CKL responding to our survey, many said they enjoyed the familiarity of their community. Where services are available, they are generally easy to find, according to participants.”

The report also pointed out how socially active older people were in the City.

“Older people sit on local committees, enjoy regular leisure and recreational activities and participate in numerous social and political events.”

That wouldn’t surprise Simon Wickens of the Lions Club.

“The club wouldn’t be much of anything without the participation of our seniors.”

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