George – creating connections

George quit school when he was 14 and went to work.  He’s done everything  from delivering papers in Halifax where he grew up to landscaping, construction site clean-up and roofing around the Lower Mainland. He wrapped his working life as a janitor at Burnaby’s Metrotown mall.

“It was good hours. They gave me a little radio. If I had any trouble I’d get on the blower and call the boys. I loved it. I was my own boss. I worked there right up to 65,” George says.

After a lifetime of hard work and purpose, George found himself retired and on a fixed income. While George is able to get by financially, he found himself isolated.

That’s because in Burnaby – like the rest of the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley – over 20% of all seniors live alone. While living alone isn’t a problem in itself, transportation and mobility issues often make getting out and seeing friends difficult.

Finding friendship

For seniors, isolation is a real concern. Nearly 1 in 5 Canadian seniors report that they feel lonely. That’s why, when you’re vulnerable, the right connection can save your life.

For George, the life-saving connection happened when a neighbour at his housing complex told him about a United Way Active Aging Program at Burnaby Neighbourhood House. The program works with seniors who are isolated by language, financial and mobility barriers. Like George, many seniors attending the program are missing family support systems and are unfamiliar with the resources and services available – resources that can help them maintain their independence.

So, Wednesdays and Fridays between 10 AM and 1 PM, George learns line dancing and tai chi, and he enjoys a hot meal. But the really impactful benefit isn’t the activity or the nutritious food, it’s the people.

“I don’t feel alone when I come here. I feel welcomed. I feel love,” George says. “People care about me. … If I don’t show up, people ask where’s George, what happened to him?”

“The key to the Seniors Together program is that it’s really about supporting seniors who need a place to belong and to be connected. The volunteers themselves are newly retired individuals who are in some cases lonely themselves. They’ve had purpose all their lives in careers…they need something more meaningful because they themselves might become isolated,” says Antonia Beck, Executive Director, Burnaby Neighbourhood House.

“I don’t feel alone when I come here. I feel welcomed. I feel love.”

You can give more seniors like George the chance to not just survive, but also come alive.

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A win-win situation

Sisters Christina and Cyrena are life-long volunteers and social organizers, and the two found themselves at loose ends after each quit working. They were driven to give back locally.

“You want to put time to use and I find that you can only watch so many game shows. You have to do something. You have to be engaged in someone,” says Cyrena.

Both Christina and Cyrena volunteer with the Seniors Together program – which is just one of the 30 Active Aging programs funded across BC in 2017, a partnership between United Way of the Lower Mainland and Active Aging BC.

To date, Cyrena has helped eight widowed seniors downsize their home and belongings, and find a path forward after the death of their spouses. “Some of them just want somebody to talk to. Just to hear them. Just to be some company so they know they’re not alone,” she says. That’s the kind of difference a program like this makes.

“You want to put time to use and I find that you can only watch so many game shows. You have to do something.”

Local love in action

When we show our local love, we can improve the communities we call home.

“The value of this program is visibility,” Christina says. “Seniors [feel] invisible. They suddenly find they have no voice. People are ignoring them because they are old. They don’t have time for them because they are old.”

George says of Christina and Cyrena: “I love their friendship…They’re concerned how I’m doing. They make sure I’m doing okay.”

That friendship has made a real difference to George. But it also blurs the line between program volunteer and participant. Now George is showing his own local love… sharing his skills at needlepoint and making dreamcatchers with others.

“I teach people things. They teach me things and there’s communication,” George says. “This is like my second home. This is like my family.”

And families help with each other with everything. They also celebrate together: things like birthdays. “This is the first time that somebody has bought me a cake for my birthday. In my life,” George says.

You can give more seniors like George the chance to not just survive, but also come alive.

Unleash your local love. Please give today.


Since 2015, the Active Aging Research Team (AART) and the United Way of the Lower Mainland (UWLM) have been working in partnership to provide community grants that reach diverse communities and that build capacity to promote older adult physical activity, social connectedness, independence – and health.

“This is the first time that somebody has bought me a cake for my birthday. In my life.”

A photo of George

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Tracy GreenGeorge