Independence through volunteering

Agnes enjoys a tea break with Pearl, a Cloverdale senior. - Boaz Joseph / The Leader
Agnes enjoys a tea break with Pearl, a Cloverdale senior.
— image credit: Boaz Joseph / The Leader

Pearl has daily tasks she wants accomplished, but finds she can pay dearly for her enthusiasm.

Recently, the Cloverdale senior went a bit overboard, spending a day baking two batches of muffins, followed by a date loaf.

“The next day, I could hardly move,” recalls the 82-year-old, who is burdened by rheumatoid arthritis and poor eyesight, among other things.

“I thought, okay, I’m never going to do that again. But I will.”

While trying to maintain as much independence as possible, she acknowledges she needs help with certain things, be they housekeeping, heavy lifting or smaller-scale missions (recently, she good-naturedly put a visitor to work changing the batteries in her right hearing aid).

While Pearl gets help from her children and grandson who visit about once a week, she also gets regular assistance from a unique volunteer.

Twice a month, Agnes, a volunteer with DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, comes to Pearl’s house for an hour of housekeeping – washing floors, sweeping, vacuuming, dusting and other chores that Pearl finds too difficult to do.

Her efficiency impressed Pearl, when without being asked, Agnes was found dusting pictures in the hallway on her first day.

Agnes’ work is part of Community Action for Seniors’ Independence (CASI), pilot project that is one-third into its 18-month mandate.

The project matches volunteers with clients who need basic support to retain their independence.

CASI program coordinator Maureen Chang says the program looks at the specific needs of each client, and pairs them with volunteers who are most suited.

The to-do lists of clients vary: Some require people to walk with regularly, while others have needed DVD players programmed, non-slip mats installed in their bathtubs, or drivers to help with clients’ coin laundry services.

Visits are one-time or recurring, depending on the situations of clients or volunteers.

Agnes, who also assists another CASI client with reading, got involved to gain volunteering experience for her resumé.

CASI was also an “opportunity to help me practise my English,” explains Agnes, a Port Moody woman who immigrated from Poland three years ago.

“It really works well because when I meet with (the client), she usually offers me a cup of tea and something sweet and we sit down and talk. We have a nice conversation about life.”

“Is she telling you what a miserable old lady I am?” interjects hard-of-hearing Pearl, eliciting a burst of laughter from both.

“If you don’t make a joke out of (aging) and laugh about it, you’re not going to get through it,” she adds.

“I think Agnes is wonderful. She’s very sociable, very easy to talk to. She’s just a very nice person. I’m lucky that she landed on my doorstep.

“You don’t always hit it off with people,” she continues. “But I’m very comfortable with her. I have been right from the beginning.”

CASI was brought about following consultations between community groups, the United Way of Lower Mainland and the provincial government.

There are five CASI projects in B.C. outside of DIVERSEcity, which is based in Newton. The others are in Dawson Creek, Osoyoos, Maple Ridge and Vancouver.

About 30 people volunteer for 70 seniors through CASI at DIVERSE-city. A large number of them are immigrants who have participated in DIVERSEcity’s English Language Services for Adults (ELSA) program, which helped them break cultural and language barriers and as a way to integrate into Canadian society – while helping seniors maintain independence along the way.

Helping immigrants integrate is a primary mandate of DIVERSEcity, a non-profit agency which has provided a variety of family, language and career programs since 1978.

DIVERSEcity is seeking more volunteers to help seniors through the CASI project.

For more information, call 604-507-2266 or email

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