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Choosing Wellness combines social with health care
Ed Galka couldn’t imagine coming to Osoyoos every winter from Winnipeg – as he has done for the past 15 years – without taking part in the Osoyoos Choosing Wellness program.
“I’ve been involved with this program since I started coming to Osoyoos for the winter more than 14 years ago,” said Galka, 85. “The nurses take your blood pressure and you can talk about how you’re feeling health-wise, but to me this is more of a social thing than anything else. Everyone here is really friendly and we shoot the breeze and have a few laughs.
“I’ve met a lot of good people here through the years and I couldn’t imagine not coming every Thursday morning.”
The Choosing Wellness program has been offered in this community for 24 years and continues to attract dozens of “snowbirds” like Galka from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta every Thursday morning to the Cactus Centre on Kingfisher Drive near Jack Shaw Gardens.
Despite its success among snowbirds, there are far too many local people who don’t know about or access the program, said longtime volunteer co-ordinator Sharon Krenn.
“It’s amazing to me that so many local people don’t know about us or what we have to offer,” said Krenn, who moved to Osoyoos from Princeton back in 1991. “The vast majority of the people who come out now are snowbirds, but we sure would like to get more Osoyoos seniors to come out and enjoy everything we have to offer.”
While the main objective of the Choosing Wellness program is to monitor the health of seniors who participate on a weekly basis, it’s also about camaraderie, friendship and having a few laughs, said Krenn.
Everyone who shows up every Thursday morning is asked to weigh themselves before seeing one of the registered nurses who volunteer with the program. The nurses take blood pressure readings and are willing to listen to all questions about medical concerns, said Krenn.
Light back, head and neck massages are offered by longtime volunteer Lucille Montsion and then everyone is invited to help themselves to coffee, tea, cheese, crackers, cookies and other goodies.
“We feel that this is a great social morning for those who have lost a loved one or are new to town or just would like the company of other seniors,” said Krenn. “Some of our snowbirds have been coming to our clinic for many years and when they walk through the door, it is just like old home week to see them again.”
The program was started in 1989 when founder Elsie Johnson put in the time and effort to apply for a B.C. New Horizons Grant from the provincial government, said Krenn.
“Elsie is the founder and woman who deserves most of the credit for getting this all started,” she said. “We became friends and she asked me to become the co-ordinator and I accepted and I’ve been involved since moving here back in 1991.”
Retired registered nurses Bea Becker and Ellie Jakubovskis are two of the other founding members and remain committed to the program as they not only continue assessing clients, but have also recruited a pool of six other local nurses to assist, said Krenn.
The program used to be offered 12 months a year, but it has been close down during the summer months of June, July and August the past five years.
On two occasions, in 2008 and 2011, the Osoyoos Choosing Wellness program has been honoured with the Outstanding Group Award at the Osoyoos Volunteer Appreciation Awards, which is a credit to each and every volunteer who makes the program the great success it has become, said Krenn.
Offering weekly medical updates and a morning of social interaction means a lot to all the regular participants, said Krenn.
“People, especially seniors, just like being around other people and they get that here,” she said. “The medical assistance is great, but I’ve found out through the years that the most important benefit is the social aspect.”
Montsion, another snowbird from Manitoba who has been coming to spend winters in Osoyoos since 1999, said offering neck, head and shoulder massages to participants, is her small way of helping out.
“A lot of these seniors have never had a massage and you have to talk a lot of them into it, but once they have one, they’re addicted,” she said smiling. “I think this whole program is just fantastic and it’s a terrific way for all the snowbirds who come here to get together once a week and have some laughs, while making sure they remain in good health.”
Montsion agrees she would like to see more local citizens get involved.
“We’re almost all snowbirds now,” she said. “I think if more local people knew about this, they would come out and they would enjoy themselves.”
Gerald Pendergraft is one of the few locals who show up every week and he says he loves it.
“I’ve been coming out for five years now and I think it’s very good,” he said. “You get to have your blood pressure checked to make sure everything is OK, and then you get to sit down and enjoy a nice cup of coffee and some great food and share a few stories. You get to hear all the B.S. going on in town.”
Becker, who became a nurse more than 66 years ago, said volunteering her time to assist the program has become a labour of love.
“In the past two years, there have been two people who came in who had very high blood pressure and I made sure they went straight to the hospital,” she said. “In both cases, the doctors contacted me and told me that if they hadn’t come when they did, they might not have made it another week.
“If I get one case like that a year, then I know what I’m doing is making a difference. It makes you feel good when you realize you played a role in helping someone with serious health problems get the help they need.”
All of the seniors who show up every week are exceptionally friendly and have a good time, which is a nice bonus, said Becker.
All seniors are invited to attend the Choosing Wellness program every Thursday morning starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Cactus Centre.
BY KEITH LACEY