Including the villages of Fruitvale and Montrose, the Beaver Valley is situated in the West Kootenays, east of Trail, BC. The Beaver Valley Community Response Network (CRN) is coordinated by Jayme Fowler, who assumed the role just three years ago. Originally from Beaver Valley, Jayme is a full-time mom to a pre-teen and a teenager, and a dog-mom to four-year-old Max who, according to Jayme, “is chill”.
Her volunteer resume has followed her kids’ extracurricular activities, namely hockey (“My son plays in three different clubs.”) and figure skating (“My daughter skates with the Rosalind Figure Skating Club.”)
One of her most recent projects involved bringing technology to local seniors, helping the community’s most isolated members connect with family and friends during the pandemic.
We are very pleased to be profiling Jayme as our volunteer of the month.
“I’ve Always Worked with Seniors.”
As soon as Jayme graduated from high school, she moved to Calgary, where she enrolled in a five-month nursing course. “I wanted to get into the field to see if I liked it,” says Jayme. “Although the course was overwhelming for me as an 18-year-old, I knew I wanted to help people.”
The practicum component of the program had Jayme working in seniors’ homes for the first time. “I was scared,” she recalls. “I started in the dementia ward and found that I loved everything about it. I worked with an incredible team of nurses, instructors, and co-workers who made everything so familiar and comfortable.”
Jayme would come to stay in Calgary for nine years. For the first four years, she continued working with patients with aggressive dementia as a healthcare aide in several wards and facilities. “I absolutely loved it,” she says. “I learned a lot and worked with so many great people.” Jayme also married her husband, a fellow Beaver Valley transplant. (“We’ve known each other since we were kids.”) Soon after, the newlyweds returned to Beaver Valley to start a family.
Back in BC, Jayme continued working with seniors, this time in assisted living campuses. “Working in assisted living was the complete opposite experience to dementia wards,” she explains. “Assisted living residents know my name and I know theirs, so it’s easy to build relationships. Helping people with the simple things, like putting on shoes or talking, is also so fulfilling.”
“Unlike dementia wards where everything is under one roof, assisted living communities are spread out and there is a lot of activity,” Jayme continues. “Part of the job involves helping residents and their families connect the dots and to make that world a little smaller. Having trusting relationships help with that part.”
“I First Learned of BC CRN from a Co-Worker.”
“I actually can’t remember how I came to meet (Regional Mentor for West Kootenay and Boundary) Heather (Von Ilberg),” says Jayme. “I do know that it was a co-worker who asked me to contact her.”
The Beaver Valley CRN works alongside the Columbia Seniors Wellness Society. “It’s an organization for seniors by seniors,” she explains. “The society is a platform where seniors can voice their needs, wants, and issues. As a community, we need this input to plan things appropriately.”
The Society has over 100 members and Jayme also sits on the Society’s Board of Directors.
In 2019, after planning the activities and community events for the year, the pandemic forced a change.
“COVID Was a Turning Point”
“We had to figure out what we could do safely,” says Jayme. “We all wanted to help, but couldn’t leave the house.”
By mobilizing a volunteer team of 17, a phone tree was active within days. “We started phoning seniors once a week, then it was every two weeks to find out what people needed,” she recalls. “We were lucky: no one needed food or medication. Families and neighbours were covering the basics.”
What was needed was communication on what was happening in the community. The CRN started a newsletter that was published and shared every couple of months. “The Meals-On-Wheels program closed early during the pandemic,” says Jayme. “So, in the newsletter, we would communicate, for example, when stores were open for seniors to do their shopping.”
Shortly afterward, the team established bi-weekly activities through the local library. “There was a new activity for seniors every two weeks and the feedback was so positive, the program is still running today,” says Jayme.
(In addition to the library program, volunteers today still use the phone tree originally set up in 2019 to reach out to seniors.)
Come Christmastime, the CRN partnered with a Fruitvale-based Tae Kwon Do studio to host Christmas Cheer for Seniors Near, a program that saw the creation of 110 gift bags. “The kids from the Tae Kwon Do studio raised $4,000, local business came forward to donate items for the gift bags, and a private ambulance company delivered the packages to anyone who found themselves living alone during the holidays,” she explains. “It’s one of the best projects I’ve ever done.”
A Lifeline to the Outside World
In 2020, the team kept rolling out projects, with a major initiative equipping seniors with tablets to stay connected with family members and friends. “Many seniors, even ones who are coupled, are lonely,” says Jayme. “Not being able to see anyone outside the household just compounds the feelings of isolation.”
There were several challenges to overcome. First, many of the community’s seniors were not accustomed to using tablets. Second, none of Jayme’s team would be able to teach the seniors how to use the technology due to COVID safety protocols.
“We needed technology that didn’t require training,” she explains. “After a lot of research, I found a company called Claris Companion that makes tablets specifically for seniors. Thanks to funding from the BC CRN and Kootenay Savings, I called and ordered some.”
Jayme’s 94-year-old grandmother was one of the first to test out the tablets. “I was shocked how quickly she caught on considering she hasn’t used much technology and she is nearly blind,” says Jayme. “Soon, she was phoning, texting, and sharing photos with her friends, neighbours, and great-grandkids. It’s changed her life and she no longer feels like she’s missing anything anymore. It’s magical.”
The Claris Companion tablets also feature medication reminders, emergency contacts, exercise videos, and games. “I’m able to access everything on my grandmother’s tablet through an app, so I’m notified if she missed taking her medicine or if she wants me to add a game to her tablet,” adds Jayme. “And all the apps are secure, so there are no spam or scams.”
The funding allowed Jayme to purchase eight tablets and cover the monthly fees for a year. After the one-year trial period, recipients have the option to purchase their own tablet or continue with the program by paying the monthly fee.
“It’s been a process, and initially, some seniors were hesitant to try,” says Jayme. “Since we’ve received the tablets, it’s been really good.”
Living the Simple Life
Outside of BC CRN, Jayme and her family enjoy the simple pleasures of life. The Fowlers kayak the local lakes and bike the local mountains. “We’re also a big winter sports family,” she says. “Before the pandemic, we loved traveling. We would visit family in California and Disneyland is always a favourite place. We’re looking forward to being able to visit family again soon.”
Why Jayme is Our Volunteer of the Month
Heather Von Ilberg, BC CRN Regional Mentor – West Kootenay and Boundary says: “Jayme is a joy to work with. Her enthusiasm, passion, and very open heart are of great benefit to the folks she supports in the Beaver Valley. And she’s an invaluable and well-loved member of our West Kootenay CRN team!”
Written by: Debbie Chow, Links Communication Solutions. Follow Debbie on LinkedIn: @debbiechowabc.
(Header Photo: J. Fowler)