By Brendan Miller on December 27, 2023.
In 2023, the Unison at Veiner Centre focused on reducing social isolation by adding several new programs, opening a bistro and patio as well as strengthening its programs that provide healthy meals for seniors. The centre says it now has more members and volunteers than before the flood and COVID pandemic.
This year the Veiner Centre increased by more than 500 members and is seeing more people access its services from communities surrounding Medicine Hat. Currently the Veiner Centre has more than 1,600 active members.
“I think that speaks really loudly that some of our seniors in the community were feeling very isolated during COVID. And they’re feeling very comfortable to come down to the Veiner Centre and do some socialization and interacting with people,” says director Cori Fischer.
The Veiner Centre has expanded its programming with 15 new non-traditional activities that include Tai Chi, yoga, a bike club, bocce ball, rock painting and there is even a class that teaches seniors how to walk like a runway model called ‘Glammy Grammys.’
“So those new activities are definitely what I think are drawing some of our new members in. And I love the creativity of the ideas that they have for the new activities they want,” say Fischer.
During the summer months the centre held outdoor fitness classes and a community barbecue to get to know their neighbours.
“A big goal that we’re focused on is reducing social isolation and getting people out of their homes,” says Fischer.
The centre also had the opportunity to hold a town hall discussion with Mayor Linnsie Clark and several councillors and senior city managers so members could express concerns and share ideas on how to improve their quality of life.
With the help of volunteers the Veiner Centre also expanded its transportation program that provides rides to seniors.
“About half of our rides right now are transportation to doctors appointments, to dialysis, to the hospital for physiotherapy, to the bank or to the dentist. That is a huge part of the transportation program is making sure that they’re getting to those appointments,” says Fischer.
The Veiner Centre is also doing its part to put an end to senior abuse. This year it partnered with the RCMP to expand an elder abusive program to include communities in the County of 40 Mile and Cypress County.
“Take time in those communities to really focus on elder abuse, what signs to look for. How can we support our neighbours, how and who should we connect people with if they think they’re experiencing elder abuse,” says Fischer.
In 2023 the Veiner Centre partnered with the Root Cellar to grow its THRIVE program focused on providing low-resource seniors with healthy meal options and offering cooking classes to show seniors how to make quick healthy meals for one.
“Seniors are able to take healthy food home with them if they can’t afford their groceries. And then we expanded that to include some community kitchens.”
Speaking of food, this year the Veiner Centre opened a bistro and patio that offers seniors healthy affordable meal options, a trend officials feel strongly about.
“So we’re trying to keep it healthy. So it’s all baked potatoes, salads, things like that. Absolutely affordable, healthy meals for the seniors in our community,” says Fischer.
The centre added an outdoor patio for the bistro in June with the help of a donation from a longtime member of the Veiner Centre.
“It’s definitely something that we need to be aware of. I think that with the cost of groceries right now, I think with the cost of living, I think that many of our seniors are on fixed income with CPP and OAS and there hasn’t been a substantial increase,” says Fischer. “We really need to work as a community to ensure that our seniors are eating good quality healthy foods.”
The backbone of the Veiner Centre is its volunteers. This year the centre has seen a spike in helpfulness and now has approximately 155 volunteers who run and organize activities, work reception and drive their Meals on Wheels and transportation program vehicles.
“We just absolutely could not operate without the volunteers that we have. And the fact that we have 155 volunteers that are willing to support Unison at Veiner Centre to make this such an amazing facility and opportunity for seniors to come down and enjoy themselves is beyond belief,” says Fischer. “They ensure that we operate smoothly and efficiently, we would not be able to keep our doors open to offer as many activities as we do without them.”
In 2024, the Veiner Centre says it will continue to add more programming, hopefully more activities that involve youth and schools.
The centre also plans to expand both transportation programs and the THRIVE program to ensure seniors access services and don’t have to worry about food security.
In February the centre is set to host a Mardi Gras event and later in March a large fundraiser is planned for the Meals on Wheels program.
“It’s really important that we’re collaborating with other services and resources in our community, and even businesses and to be able to offer as much support as we possibly can for our senior population,” says Fischer.