Fun, Fitness & Friendship: How Newcomer Seniors are Thriving at Access Alliance
Newcomer Seniors’ Program, Access Alliance
I’m happy to be a part of this community.– Newcomer Seniors’ Program participant
Week after week, our Gentle Fit program space fills up quickly with newcomer seniors and other seniors from the community. The room is abuzz with energy as seniors excited to exercise engage with fellow participants. Seniors’ Fitness Program Worker Rae Dooley leads everyone through a series of effective, low-impact fitness styles—including qi gong and yoga—and participants finish the class with both stronger bodies and stronger connections to their community. Access Alliance’s seniors’ programs are designed to reduce the risk of social isolation of newcomer seniors and older adults, as well as improve their health and overall wellbeing. The feedback we receive indicates a high success rate. “Before starting to come to the exercise classes, I had pain in my joints. The pain is now a lot less, and I feel I can walk longer and do more. The exercise also clears my mind and makes me feel lighter,” says one Seniors’ Program participant.
A newcomer Seniors’ Program that works
Rae works alongside Seniors’ Program worker Shaheda Azami at Access Alliance’s Seniors Active Living Centres, at our AccessPoint on Danforth and AccessPoint on Jane sites. Some seniors’ programming is also available online, via Zoom. Our Seniors’ Program is geared towards newcomers, designed to meet the needs of immigrant, refugee and non-status seniors through programming and events that reduce loneliness, increase knowledge and skills, and improve health outcomes for participants.
For a recent Newcomer Seniors’ Fun Day, 52 seniors joined us for a full day of programming that included exercise, games, and an info session on how seniors can avoid frauds and scams. Given the number of phone and email scam messages targeting them, participants found this session particularly helpful! And last week at our Danforth location we hosted a very successful Seniors Active Living Centre Fair, with presentations and demos from Access Alliance staff, along with 19 exhibitors and 75 enthusiastic seniors in attendance.
Other recent programs include Arts & Crafts, Sing-a-long (with popular songs selected by participants), and a Lunge & Learn series. This 6-week program—developed in partnership with the East End Community Health Centre—was a resounding success, providing a combination of exercise classes and informative lectures on important topics like nutrition, mental health, budgeting and wills.
Bingo, bicycles and Bengali beats
A big part of the Seniors’ Program’s success is the fact that programs are developed to address needs identified in the community, and take into account feedback provided by participants. Rae and Shaheda work hard to create accessible and safe spaces. Staff, volunteers and participants all contribute to a positive environment and a sense of connection. Our welcoming weekly Bingo program, for example, now offers prizes and has become very popular, with one participant noting, “during bingo we feel that we are all winners.”
Two new additions to our Newcomer Seniors’ programs are the Take Our Seniors Out (TOSO) trishaw project, and a new Bengali Fitness class, both at our Danforth location. TOSO offers safe, free, comfortable rides to seniors on an electric trishaw, providing them with the opportunity to run errands, explore new neighborhoods, and interact with volunteers and other seniors while they’re out and about.
Our numbers of Bengali newcomer seniors have been increasing, thanks in part to a new partnership with the West Scarborough Neighborhood Centre Bengali Seniors Program. Exercising to Bangla music and beats, participants in our Bengali Fitness class move, stretch, and connect with each other. ““I love to come to class,” shares one participant, “I love when we dance to music from my country. I like to feel my muscles move and get stronger. The teacher is very knowledgeable and challenging.”
Stepping into a new season
With autumn on our doorstep and winter coming soon, we’re continuing to work hard to keep seniors engaged in their community and both physically and mentally healthy. This fall our Nordic Pole Walking group is embarking on a collective journey of 525 kilometers, the equivalent of a trek from the east end of Toronto all the way to Montreal. Participating Danforth seniors are not only improving their balance and cardio health, but are also having a great time while they get to know new people in their community. The Seniors’ Program is also continuing its monthly Newcomer Seniors’ Fun Day, a day chock full of activities, including bingo, exercise, music, movie time, info sessions and a tasty lunch!
We’re also looking ahead to our Snow Removal Program later this season, which links seniors seeking help with snow removal with qualified local shovellers. Shaheda shares that last year’s participants reported unanimously that the program “helped them live independently during the winter”. Participating seniors not only get their snow cleared in a timely manner but they also benefit from wellness checks by Access Alliance staff.
We are always ready to welcome participants to our Newcomer Seniors’ Programs. If you or someone you know would like to join us for exercise, info sessions, fun activities and more, please reach out to Rae (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Shaheda (email@example.com) for more info and to register. You can also find more information on all of our Newcomer Seniors’ Program offerings via our online program calendar.