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New telephone program connecting seniors across the province to battle isolation

A new provincial program is helping seniors with their isolation by offering free classes and social events over the telephone
scww poster

A new telephone service for people over the age of 55 has launched in Saskatchewan, focused on connecting participants together with social chats, informational classes and fun activities. 

The program is called Seniors' Centre Without Walls (SCWW) and is organized by the provincial non-profit Age Friendly Outreach & Resource Network. It’s based in Moose Jaw but open to all Saskatchewan residents, with the goal to keep older residents connected directly from their homes.

“It’s kind of endless, what you can do over the telephone for different topics and subjects, and everybody just gets to call in and listen, it's totally interactive,” said program director Ronda Wedhorn. “It's a welcoming environment. Everyone takes turns, shares their stories, and it’s been going over really well.”

SCWW is entirely free, with a list of offered events available every month for participants to sign up for, including things like coffee chats, trivia, art classes, author readings, fitness classes, and even information sessions from guest speakers. 

Each event is between 30 minutes to an hour long, with about a dozen participants included on the phone call, and encourages participants to take an interactive role, to help facilitate a social connection and break the boredom that isolation can cause.

“Especially with COVID-19, older adults are being asked to isolate and not go out in public too much to keep them safe. A lot of them are even isolated from their families because everyone wants to keep them safe,” said Wedhorn. “But this is almost like a community where you can’t see anyone, but you can hear their voices and know their name, somewhat similar to the old party lines when you could talk to all your neighbours on the phone.”

Wedhorn said the most popular program so far is “You Be The Judge,” where callers hear a real court case and get to make a decision as though they are the jury, before finding out how the case actually concluded in reality. Another program that had a lot of interest was an information session on identifying scams.

The Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery has also partnered with the program, offering an art class with education coordinator Christy Schweiger that has been a huge hit so far, and SWCC participants from across Canada get together on a nationwide call once a month to talk.

“We’ve been getting really good feedback on the first couple of classes we’ve had. People were feeling isolated and scared and not sure how they were going to get through the winter or with a second wave [of COVID] coming,” said Wedhorn. “But we’ve been going a month now, and I can already notice a difference in people’s voices. They’re laughing and interacting with each other, and I can tell already it's been a great program.”

The program is part of a national movement, with the rest of the prairie provinces already operating their own SCWW programs with great success. Saskatchewan is just the latest province to join the party, launching just over a month ago with the support of the Red Cross COVID-19 Emergency Support grant.

Although the over-the-telephone program was developed as a relief service for seniors feeling isolated during the COVID-19 lockdown, Wedhorn said there is a continued value to offering a service like this even outside the pandemic.

“Feeling isolated, feeling lonely and without a connection to your community, especially when you can’t go out, that happens even when there’s not a pandemic going on,” said Wedhorn. “So this is a way that they can call in on their phone and they don’t have to go out, but still get that connection to community.”

SCWW is pleased with the response it's received so far, and Wedhorn encourages more residents to reach out and get involved if they’re feeling interested. The program is entirely confidential, she said, and all participants need to take part is access to a telephone.

SCWW is also working on launching a new, separate part of the program: individual social calls, for one-on-one visits rather than group chats. Wedhorn said that volunteers to take part in this new program are welcome to reach out to get involved.

“If people don’t want to say their lonely or isolated, or want to come to the program as a support person for others, that’s great to have too. The more people on there, the more sharing that goes on,” said Wedhorn.

More information about SCWW is available at scwwmoosejaw.com or by calling 1 (306) 631-4357 to register and learn more. 



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