For almost 20 years, the Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors (SPC) group has been doing what it can to brighten the lives of local senior citizens whose golden years may be tarnishing. And since the beginning, Helene Long has been one of the group’s driving forces.
A primary school teacher for decades, Long and her family have been living in Chilliwack since the mid-70s, when they visited Cultus Lake for a camping trip. “We thought, ‘Wow, this is a nice place to live!’ and moved to the area in … 1974.”
Long and her husband raised two children in the city, and eventually her parents moved into a downstairs suite contained within her home. And although she didn’t know it at the time, a later outing at the mall with her mother would ignite a passion within her that would see the pair help hundreds of seniors.
“There was a lady in the mall whose name was Pam Wilson,” recalled Long. “She was looking for people to go and meet with seniors and my mom said, ‘We’re going to do that!’ She wanted to do it and I was her ride, so we did it.”
Teaming up with Wilson, Long and her mother travelled to Abbotsford and were trained as senior peer counsellors. “My mom was (always) my inspiration and still is” even though she’s passed away.
“It was really quite intensive,” said Long of the program. “It could be a first year university course.”
Registered in 1999, the Chilliwack Senior Peer group works tirelessly at ensuring the most vulnerable of our seniors aren’t left alone for too long and have people in their lives who can help them navigate what may be a very challenging time of their lives.
“It’s a time of your life when you give up a lot,” said Long. “For many in their later years, families have moved and friends have passed away … leaving many people very lonely and socially isolated.”
Although the counsellors receive training in a variety of subjects—Alzheimer’s, dementia, financial issues, and medication misuse, to name a few—Long says one of the main jobs of counsellors is to befriend their clients: “Sometimes they just need somebody to talk to.”
Laughing, Long recalled the story of a lady who had approached her at a seniors’ home. “She wanted to be paired up with somebody, but somebody her own age. And when I asked her how old she was, she replied 102!
“I said I didn’t have anyone in that age bracket, but asked if she’d be happy with somebody in their late 80s or 90s,” continued Long, still smiling at the memory.
The Chilliwack SPC group currently has about 55 volunteer counsellors, explained Long, but says they could always use more volunteers. “We see probably about a 100 seniors each year … and this is a really good way to get to know somebody.”
Ranging in age from their late 30s to their 60s and 70s, Long said Chilliwack’s senior counsellors are from “every walk of life. And you know what? We have seniors from every walk of life, too.”
And besides attending the training course, becoming a counsellor is a pretty easy process, says Long.
“We ask that you show up, do a criminal record check, and … we (also) ask our counsellors to spend at least a year with a senior (but) often find they don’t want to give that senior up afterwards,” said Long, who’s created lasting “client-friendships” with many seniors.
“We have gotten couples back together, helped with nursing home (transitions), do lots of grief counselling, and help plug people into the places and programs that can help them,” said Long.
But what people appreciate the most, says Long, are the human connections that are made. “(Clients) will say, ‘I was so lonely and I’m not lonely any more!’ … or people will call and (tell us how) a counsellor is just such an angel for their (family member).’ It’s so rewarding.”
The next training session for counsellors will start the first week of September. Anyone interested in volunteering is urged to call the office at 604-302-4071, or visit their website at ChilliwackSeniorPeerCounsellors.org.