Like many B.C. communities, Burns Lake has a growing senior population. Many of these older adults have lived in Burns Lake or the surrounding area for much of their lives. They wish to age-in-place and remain with their friends and families and among the landscape where they have spent much of their life. They don’t want to leave because of a lack of services.
However, increasing and improving levels of various services and adapting infrastructure for seniors can be a challenge, especially for small communities like Burns Lake. Funding and careful consideration are needed to address issues such as pedestrian infrastructure, parking, transit, seniors’ housing, and recreational and service programming. Knowing this, Dooseon Jung, Director of Recreation Services for the Village of Burns Lake, applied for an Aging Well grant through the BC Healthy Communities Society (BCHC) to help start the process. An initiative of BCHC and the Government of British Columbia, Aging Well provides materials, facilitation and funding for communities to assist seniors, and people who are soon to retire, plan for a healthy, independent future.
With the funding and materials provided, Jung planned three workshops facilitated by local experts. Beth Berlin, a nurse practitioner, led a workshop on seniors’ health, and encouraged participants to submit questions anonymously that she then answered during the workshop. Gary Hemmerling, of the Lakes District Housing Society, provided information and advice about housing options and asked participants to complete a survey about preferred housing types, where they planned to retire, and other questions that would help developers and village staff plan for the future. The final workshop even helped seniors with financial wellness.
In a village of less than 2,000, 136 people turned out and everyone felt the workshops succeeded (1), and many participants expressed surprise at the depth of information they had been offered. Complimentary transportation and a healthy lunch, key ingredients for many seniors who may otherwise not be able to attend, contributed to the success of the workshops.
Some practical challenges arose in the planning of the workshops, with many solutions coming from the community. Due to the closure of the local bus company, the village provided transportation services using their own vehicles. To find skilled speakers in the small town, organizers tapped into the informal connections in the community to identify experts.
Jung acknowledged that the Aging Well grant and Age-friendly Communities grants that the village had received in the past were helpful in addressing the Aging Well topics (housing, transportation, finances, social connectedness, and physical and mental health). The grants have also provided the foundation to develop programming and create awareness about what’s needed to help Burns Lake seniors age-in-place.