Aging at home is a seniors’ programme within the JFCFC being delivered through weekly group sessions. The initiative was founded by the Ministry of Health through Local Health Integrated Networks (LHINs) in 2009 and is led by the JFCFC. The programme was created in response to prior research findings showcasing high rates of early admittance of seniors to long-term care on the one hand, and lack of services and activities available to seniors in the community on the other.
The primary goal of the initiative according to our respondent is to “support seniors from diverse ethno-cultural backgrounds in living independently in their homes for as long as possible”. It has established adult day programmes in which seniors meet on a weekly basis and connect with one another and their community. There are ten programmes in total offered within Aging at Home in eight different locations to ensure accessibility and proximity to seniors’ homes. Participants are further provided with TTC tokens to commute to the sites. The programmes include Cambodian Group, three multi-cultural groups, Latin-American Group, Hindi/Urdu Group, Vietnamese Group, Guyanese Group, Punjabi Group, and Young at Heart Group (Spanish and English). The groups are offered in six languages: Cambodian, Vietnamese, Spanish, Hindi/Urdu, Punjabi and English and altogether serve seniors from the Asian, South-Asian, Spanish, Caribbean and East African.
The defined target audience of the initiative is seniors in Jane-Finch neighbourhood of 55 years of age and above. There is a range of activities organised within groups including games, life skills training, outdoor and recreational activities, workshops, arts and crafts, and community information sessions. Each group has a monthly calendar, which is designed in direct consultation with the participants. It is expected that through part-taking in these activities the seniors will establish social ties and be less isolated, get access to health care information and services, reduce the number of their doctor or hospital visits and the length and frequency of their hospitalization, and exercise better self-care.
Aging at Home is implemented in partnership with San Romanoway Revitalization, Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women, and Northwood Neighbourhood Services. The programme receives full funding from the Federal government through the Ministry of Health. It has 12 staff members in total including a programme manager and 11 members, who are involved in organising and running the 10 groups.
While the programme positively influences the social mobility of seniors via providing trainings and workshops regarding self-sufficiency, and managing of finances, its most important impact has been made in relation to social cohesion. According to the findings of the JFCFC survey of 2010, the strengthening of social ties was identified as the most important outcome of the programme upon the participants’ lives. Many seniors contended that they felt happier, less isolated and more connected to their community since they joined Aging at Home. Many seniors have been able to create and maintain strong and close friendships within their groups. In addition, parts of the programme activities focus upon informing seniors of and connecting them to other available services in Jane-Finch neighbourhood and by thus means have helped them gain stronger connections to their community.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Aging at Home pays explicit attention to the existing ethnic and linguistic diversity among seniors in the Jane-Finch community via the provision of language-specific programmes. Moreover, there are frequent events and workshops organised whereby different groups are brought together to respect and appreciate the diversity of Jane Finch community, and further facilitate cross-cultural interactions and connections. As mentioned before the programme includes both mono-cultural and multi-cultural groups. The former groups are created to serve seniors (who have difficulties speaking English) in their own language while the latter address a wider audience and focus on creating cross-cultural interactions. Our respondents highlighted the importance of these activities for recognising diversity:
“Usually when we have an activity everyone dresses in their ethnic clothing. It is so colourful! When we plan activities, we ask them to present their own cultural dance, song and everything. And if for instance Punjabis dance their own dance, everybody else wants to participate. You can really see the understanding of diversity within the group is positive.”
In addition to ethnic and cultural diversity, the group-specific programmes within the initiative address categories such as age, socio-economic status, and physical disability.
Main factors influencing success or failure
Over the years the initiative has been received very well by the seniors in Jane-Finch neighbourhood given that it addresses the very dire need for senior services, which were previously lacking in the community. One of the external success factors of the programme has been the stability in its funding provided by the Federal government. Unlike most other current initiatives in the area, Aging at Home has not faced cuts in its budget within the past years. That has been mostly due to its specifically defined target of serving seniors, which is generally an area that has not suffered recent cutbacks. The most important internal success factor is the cultural and lingual diversity among the staff members, which have provided the programme with the unique opportunity to reach out to a number of diverse ethno-cultural groups. However, there are still very high demands within the community for creating new language groups but that has not been feasible due to lack of additional funding made available to the programme, which can be seen as the primary barrier for success.
Aging at Home provides a good example for how successful community-based initiatives in the Jane-Finch area can be if they are well-established financially. While the programme is designed to address a very specific group of the population, it still cuts across different components of diversity by providing accessible and inclusive spaces of cross-cultural interaction for seniors. In that respect it increases the encounters in the community. The participatory approach towards planning the group activities has allowed for the programmes to cater the needs of the community while keeping the seniors engaged in the programme over the years. It also creates recognition of the needs of elderly people in the wider Jane-Finch via the activities planned for the participants to get them more involved in the community. There are however, a number of ethno-cultural groups that are left out of the services offered by Aging at Home due to language barriers. While the programme does hope to expand to incorporate new ethno-cultural groups, based on the current funding possibilities the prospects regarding the feasibility of such plan remain rather low in the short run.
 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) is a network of 14 not-for-profit corporations collaborate with local health providers and community members to plan, integrate and fund local health services.
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