BC Association of Community Response Networks

IRIS: Increasing Recreation Involving Seniors

Submitted by Sandi McCreight, CRN Coordinator, Castlegar; IRIS Program Coordinator

IRIS: Increasing Recreation Involving Seniors is a program out of the Castlegar Community Response Network (CRN).

IRIS supports local seniors by creating inclusive and diverse opportunities for recreation and socialization, on a consistent basis, based on participants’ wants and needs, while challenging barriers to participation & striving for intergenerational connectedness.

The program provides a safe, inclusive space/environment for multiple free events each month for seniors 60+ in the Castlegar area. Monthly events include Lunch, Coffee, Lunch & Learn, Cook & Share, Ladies Tea, and Men’s Group. Other events include weekly chair yoga and others such as music, holiday celebrations, or journal writing, as determined by participants. IRIS participants benefit from improved socialization, connectedness, and health. Food is provided at all events. IRIS participants are volunteers and come from diverse backgrounds

IRIS wants to connect with all seniors regardless of age, ability, culture, income, living situation, etc. This diversity makes IRIS special – participants say they love that when they come in the door and everyone is welcome.

IRIS began with a vision to create a support system for seniors, utilizing seniors’ input, focusing on prevention, and requiring less funding than direct advocacy. It created a safe space for senior-directed programming while addressing barriers such as cost – all events are free. It started in July 2017 with six seniors gathering for coffee with the goal of improving seniors’ lives, wellness, and connectedness to each other and the community at large and creating a community where seniors are respected and free of abuse.

Kathleen and Brad Zubick, the owners of the Castlegar and Trail McDonald’s, have been a blessing since day one. They are very supportive, often providing in-kind food items, and other times, providing items at their cost. Both in-person events and through COVID, they’ve been a huge supporter of IRIS.

Funding for IRIS has all come from donations and grant writing. The participants donate about $4,000 per year towards programming. All events are free, but if the donation jar is not put out, the seniors let the IRIS Crew know right away!

The participants and the IRIS Crew continuously converse to ensure the program is what the seniors want and need. The volunteer drivers always come back with numerous thank-you cards and notes, expressing gratitude for the program, the lunch, and the Crew for keeping them connected with food.

The connections between the seniors and Selkirk College Students, elementary school students, and the IRIS Crew were reportedly well-received and appreciated by all parties involved. Many of the Nursing Students said the weekly conversations with their IRIS senior (in the Two’s Company Project) really helped them to cope with the isolation through COVID. They expected to help seniors and did not really expect to receive any benefit for themselves.

An IRIS/Selkirk College partnership provides an ongoing opportunity for our future nurses and social workers to see things from the community seniors’ perspective. Students learn about programs and services working preventatively on supporting seniors and learn to recognize and respond to elder abuse. Many students only experience the institutional support settings for seniors and they often refer to seniors as patients or residents – missing the boat on a completely independent, brilliant, and full-of-stories group of older adults in the community.

Selkirk College instructors and students have been a key part of IRIS, offering not only intergenerational connections but also wellness checks, games day, and cross-cultural interactions. We held a flu clinic where Pharmasave and the nursing students covered shots and blood pressure checks.

The International Gerontology Nursing Students came to IRIS and lead laugh yoga. (There is a video on the Kootenay IRIS Facebook page.) They also hosted a games day where the students and seniors taught each other games.

Through COVID we continued the education and connections by zoom and phone calls. Many casual and research projects were completed including Health and Wellness Needs of Seniors’ During a Pandemic and Beyond. This research was one of the presentations of The Place of Philanthropy in Community Mental Health conference in June 2021. (Kim Rawkins, Selkirk Instructor-led the project and documented her research.)

The IRIS Crew is made up of mostly seniors, although there are volunteers as young as nine. (The daycare that resides in the same building also comes to IRIS with three- and four-year-olds who sing for the seniors.) Several social workers, banking managers, educators, and a retired Designated Agency/Health Authority rep. The heart and dedication of this crew are bar none.

The passion and compassion within the IRIS program are the keys to its success. The ownership, pride, and input of the participants ensure the program is what the seniors want it to be.

Learn more about IRIS by joining their Facebook page.

Header Photo: Kootenay IRIS Facebook