BC CRN Spotlight: Sandi McCreight, Castlegar Coordinator

Smiling woman wearing a blue jacket
Castlegar CRN Coordinator, Sandi McCreight (photo credit: S. McCreight)


Like many BC Community Response Network members from small communities, Castlegar CRN Coordinator, Sandi McCreight, fills multiple roles in her local seniors’ organizations. Having been with the BC CNRs for almost 20 years, her passion for seniors’ advocacy and issues around ageism really shows. After a recent trip to a seniors’ services summit in Ottawa and being chosen for the upcoming term with the provincial Council of Advisors for the BC Seniors’ Advocate, this  year is proving to be her most exciting one yet.

Sandi McCreight was first drawn in by current Regional Mentor, Heather von Ilberg, in 2006 when it was just getting started as a pilot project around the province. When she saw the vision for the organization and their goal of advocacy for the prevention of abuse, neglect and self-neglect of vulnerable adults, Sandi says she was “150% in”. In the years since starting, Sandi has created the Kootenay IRIS (Increasing Recreation Involving Seniors) which is a program of the Castlegar CRN, and is the Coordinator of the local Better at Home program.

Community work is a family affair and Sandi is from a legacy of strong women. Her daughter runs a monthly arts-based class for the IRIS group called Crafts with Kayla, where she leads simple and fun projects for participants. Sandi’s mother was also very involved in community work when Sandi was a teen, though “I didn’t pay much attention at the time”. When the IRIS seniors nominated her for citizen of the year in 2022, which was awarded and presented in May 2023, Sandi later discovered that her mother was also citizen of the year exactly 40 years prior in Naramata.  Sandi’s mother also had the distinction of being the first woman to join the Naramata fire department.

Kootenay IRIS

In small towns, meeting spaces are a coveted commodity and there is no building ever left empty. The Kootenay IRIS program rents space in a community church which used to be a public school. Sandi founded the IRIS program in July of 2017 as a solution to the need for diverse social connection opportunities for seniors to prevent social isolation. She considered the launch to be a great success when just seven attendees showed up at the first event. The IRIS program now hosts multiple events each month with about 200 seniors participating in programming.

Inclusion & Intergenerational Connections

The IRIS program serves as more than just a coffee club. Sandi is passionate about inclusion so anytime Sandi hears of any initiative that could involve seniors, she brings it to the IRIS members, and the seniors jump in with enthusiasm – bringing their collective insights and wisdom to every opportunity. Over the years they have actively contributed to advancing seniors’ rights in the area by being part of community planning meetings, intergenerational events and activities with the local elementary and secondary school, as well as collaborative projects with the nearby Selkirk College’s gerontology nursing, nursing and social work programs.

Post-Covid, the seniors group at IRIS participated in a research project conducted by members of the nursing faculty at Selkirk College: “A Study Exploring the Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental and Physical Health of Older Adults in a Small Rural Community: What We Learned”. The study was picked up and later published in a 2022 edition of Perspectives, a Journal of the Canadian Gerontological Nursing Association (page 6).

Seniors’ Services Summit

Through her roles at IRIS and Better at Home, Sandi was able to attend a recent conference in Ottawa:The Community-Based Seniors’ Services (CBSS) Sector Summit.  The conference was a pan-Canadian initiative by HelpAge Canada to bring community-based public, private and not-for-profit organizations together to share knowledge and collaborate for seniors’ advocacy and services. While there, Sandi was invited to attend a special additional workshop on ageism by a relatively new organization, The Canadian Coalition Against Ageism. The session included many people in the health sector: clinicians, doctors, psychiatrists and researchers, and as they engaged in discussion, Sandi was able to put forth the need and challenge to engage seniors directly in future studies affecting seniors services and policy.

Seniors’ Advocate Council of Advisors

Sandi is thrilled to have been selected and is vibrating with excitement at her upcoming term of Seniors Advocate Council of Advisors that begins this September. Acquaintances of hers brought the opportunity to her attention and encouraged her to look into it last year and she made the decision to apply. After being put on a waitlist of applicants, she got the call in the spring. She is looking forward to gathering with like-minded people from across the province, voicing the unique needs of seniors in remote areas and bringing her passion to eliminate ageism to her new role.

Sustainability Challenges

The biggest challenge Sandi faces in her community work is finding funding to support the seniors programs. Lack of funding is the biggest barrier to being able to provide accessible programming and events that support social and physical well-being of older adults, especially for those on limited fixed incomes who might otherwise not attend because they can’t afford the fees. “Coffee and sandwiches cost more than you think”, says Sandi, “it’s frustrating to spend so much time searching for funding and worrying about sustainability of the program, but it’s something that many in my position are facing in this sector. I’m not giving up anytime soon. This work feeds my soul, I love working with seniors.”


Read more about Sandi McCreight, the Castlegar CRN and the IRIS program:


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