BC CRN’s team of Regional Mentors helps communities establish Community Response Networks (CRNs). Mentors provide ongoing local support in the coordination of responses to abuse, neglect, and self-neglect, and community development initiatives. Some Mentors are also community development partners who collaborate with local agencies and organizations to respond to the needs of the people.
Gabi Townsend, Coordinator of the Victoria CRN, is a passionate advocate for older and vulnerable adults. On any given day you’ll find her out in the community delivering cookies, sharing an information table with the local police, or making sure all the applications are in on time at the parliament building and city hall for recognizing WEAAD every June 15th.
Most of her meaningful past professional work has been in the human service sector where she engaged directly with people from all backgrounds in meaningful ways, ending with her last post with The Alzheimer’s Society of BC, Victoria branch. Her Support and Education Coordinator role with the Society gave her hands-on experience with the impact of dementia on elders and caregivers.
It wasn’t long ago that she was starting her retirement that a part-time position with the BC CRN came across her radar. The job description and hours appealed to her as she was looking for an opportunity to continue with some community connection, so she reached out and connected with the regional mentor Cari Taylor to learn more; “And that was it! Cari’s passion and excitement about the work was infectious and it felt like a great fit”. The importance of the work and the fun of connecting with people in the community, gives Gabi so much joy and energy, it “doesn’t even feel like work”. She currently oversees the communities of the District of Saanich, Oak Bay, City of Victoria, and the Township of Esquimalt.
Gabi first started with the BC CRN in the Fall of 2019, right before communities were shuttered for a time due to the global pandemic. Though restrictions from meeting in person were extended, that didn’t deter her. She picked up the phone and continued to connect with as many people and organizations in the area as possible, introducing herself and the BC CRN mission, as the need for local resources and services grew rapidly due to an ongoing lockdown. She got right to work, putting together swag bags filled with resource materials for handing out with various home delivered meal services to reach and assist those experiencing the strain of being isolated.
Gabi finds the local community very receptive and open to supporting the CRN education and awareness mandate. “When people hear what we’re about, there is often so much positive connection and opportunities, it’s a topic that people can understand and feel compassion for”. One of the neighbourhood publications, the Fairfield Gonzales Observer, offered Gabi space to submit an article to help spread awareness. The article ran in the December 2022 edition titled Fear Ageism, Not Aging!, which was also published in the BC CRN E-Connector News. She knew the story had made an impact when a member of the community wrote to her to share a story of witnessing an injustice involving an elderly person riding public transit. That community member has now become active in efforts to lobby the local government and transit authority for better treatment of elderly and vulnerable riders. Gabi’s response to this was “it’s one person and one message at a time – that’s our success”.
Gabi’s philosophy is that everyone deserves to know they are special, so she organized a Valentine’s initiative in partnership with the Cool-Aid Society called Have a Heart. The goal was to spread cheer and safety awareness to local seniors living alone in supportive housing. A nearby bakery was contacted to make 500 heart-shaped cookies while Gabi worked with the admin team at BC CRN to create themed postcards with a list of designated responder numbers on the back and collected other resource materials to make up a small swag bag. The bakery generously provided oversized cookies, which Gabi and a volunteer spread out in her kitchen and dining room to decorate, bag and tag over a couple days. “500 cookies take up a lot of room!” It was eye-opening as to how many of the seniors didn’t have anyone visit or send a card and what a meaningful act a simple cookie and card was for them. Gabi also dropped some packages at the local homeless shelter where the staff were deeply touched and grateful to have come colourful packages to share with their drop-in clients.
Working in the heart of Victoria, the provincial capital, the parliament building and city hall are practically in Gabi’s backyard. Every year, on behalf of the BC CRN, she ensures applications are made to both offices for the official observance of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day requesting purple lights on the buildings and parliament fountain, flying the flag, and the writing of a province-wide proclamation. This year she is hoping the ceremonies are open to the public so she can witness the event in person. “The BC CRN has been around for 27 years and it seems the message is only now starting to be heard”.
For more information about volunteering or resources, connect with your local CRN.