(Standing, from left) Brian Roe, general manager of Somerset House; Gary Forsgren, g.m. of Amica at the Gorge; Kim Dixon, executive director of the James Bay New Horizons Centre; (kneeling) John Lioudakis, g.m. of Douglas House, and Ron Gibson, g.m. of Amica Beechwood in Sidney celebrate the donation of a passenger vanthrough Amica’s Helping Hands company wide community charity program. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Helping Hands delivers for city seniors in Greater Victoria

New van, care baskets among the benefits brought to area seniors through Amica program

Everyone appreciates a helping hand now and again.

A group that can sometimes fall through the cracks when it comes to accepting that hand is low-income seniors living independently. Amica Mature Lifestyles, a national company which operates residential seniors communities in Victoria (Douglas House, Somerset House), Sidney (Beechwood) and soon, in Saanich (Amica at the Gorge), recognized that need some years ago.

Amica’s corporate charity, the Helping Hands Community Program, was organized as a non-profit in 2003 and has since reached into communities around Greater Victoria and elsewhere in Canada to support seniors living under the low-income cutoff.

While the company hosts larger events that bring in thousands of dollars for the charity, on the ground it’s largely about seniors helping seniors. Residents at the three complexes do smaller-scale fundraisers and make and contribute items for the care baskets filled with goodies that are delivered to shut-ins.

Brian Roe, general manager of Somerset House on Dallas Road, said at their tuck shop, residents drop off unwanted CDs or cassettes, supply chocolate bars and other necessities to sell, then other residents have the entire day to buy items.

“Usually it’s about $1,000 month we’re able to raise just from a variety of little programs that we put into place,” he said, noting that garage sales the past two summers have brought in even more funds.

Ron Gibson, g.m. of Amica Beechwood, spoke to the feeling residents experience when they get involved in the fundraising program.

“The reaction of our residents when they’re involved … they know they’re doing something special for seniors’ in need and that’s very important to them, as well as it is to us,” he said.

John Lioudakas, g.m. of Douglas House, said his residence generated excitement, laughs and dollars with a staff-dunking contest this year.

While the smaller sales provide seed money for grassroots outreach programs, Helping Hands also makes larger donations, such as the multi-passenger van now being used by the James Bay New Horizons Centre. The vehicle has been put to good use, according to executive director Kim Dixon.

The centre’s Sunday supper program sees 25 “frail isolated seniors” in a rotating list of 90 picked up each week from their homes and brought back to the centre to have dinner.

Other activities include trips to the Parksville sandcastle exhibition and south Island outings, meaning participants can leave the driving to a pair of volunteer drivers, Dixon adds.

“They get to do things that they could probably do on a [transit] bus but it would be a lot harder. And if they get to go with somebody else as a group …”

Parry Place, a nearby seniors residence, also borrows the van on occasion to get people out on similar field trips.

All in all, local seniors in need of a helping hand are gaining a sense of freedom and dignity they may not otherwise have.

editor@vicnews.com

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