In October 2020, we launched our #ElderWisdom podcast featuring Erin Davis and co-host Lloyd Hetherington exploring friendship, tragedy, love, life, learning and so much more as they have conversations with seniors on the ‘virtual’ green bench.
Erin Davis built a career as a morning radio host whose voice is familiar to hundreds of thousands of Toronto-area listeners. Today she is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, interviewer, and storyteller with a gift for conversation that brightens up each episode.
Lloyd Hetherington is passionate about education, spending most of his working life as an officer with the Salvation Army all across Canada and in the heart of central Africa. He’s a proud father, grandfather and he believes that no matter your age, there is always something to offer and to learn; he inspires others to find wisdom in their pursuit of education
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There’s an image of long-term care most people tend to carry in their minds that Kaye Brown would like to change. One of the best ways to do that is to venture out into the community and share her insights and wisdom with as many people as possible, which is how she came to find herself at the LaSalle Night Market recently on a lovely summer’s eve.
There she sat upon the familiar green #ElderWisdom bench, greeting passersby and making new friends with just about anyone who chose to stop by. She mentions that her father was the mayor of Windsor, England, so perhaps her chatty nature flows from the genes of a seasoned politician.
Kaye may not seem like a “typical” long-term care resident; at 66 she much younger than most of her neighbours in The Village at St. Clair in Windsor, yet her health needs are such that she does require the support the Village provides. And yet, that doesn’t mean she isn’t active. She’s the chairman of the Village’s residents’ council, she participates in countless outings, she has ideas on how to continue to improve village life and she’s eager to share her knowledge with others.
“People don’t really know what long-term care is,” Kaye says. “They picture a lot of people laying around in their beds but it’s not like that. I’m very active and I have lots of ideas.”
She came to St. Clair not long after it opened five years ago, and she couldn’t be happier with the community and the friends she’s made in both team members and her neighbours.
Connecting with people at the LaSalle market offered another opportunity to make new friends and help dispel some of the misconceptions some people hold about aging and life in long-term care.
“I think #ElderWisdom is telling people about what long-term care really is and how nice it can be,” Kaye says. “That is the most important thing.”
Perhaps the most important thing is the fact that The Village is so much more than a community: it’s a family, Kaye says.
“I enjoy living here,” she says. “I enjoy the people and we have an A-1 staff here. We’re all family here and that’s the lovely part about St. Clair, and that’s an important way to look at it.”
A young lady named Ashley walks through Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park during her lunch break on a random day in June. A green bench comes into view with an older gentleman sitting upon it and another beside the bench in a wheelchair. The word #Elderwisdom adorns the back of the bench while curiosity draws her closer; she’s invited to join these gentlemen in a short conversation.
This is a snapshot in time, a few short moments where perceived barriers between generations evaporate in the lovely summer air and strangers almost become friends.
In a message later sent to the Schlegel Villages #Elderwisdom campaign via Instagram, Ashley recounts what those moments meant to her and in her short message, she captures the simple essence of what this campaign is all about.
“Even though it was only for a short time,” Ashley writes, “I just wanted to let you know how great of an experience it was. What an extraordinary campaign that allows us to connect with the elderly in such a casual fashion.
“It brightened my day tremendously.”
John and Bob from Maynard and Fairview Nursing Homes in Toronto who sat with Ashley and several other new friends that day should be proud of the inspiration they offered.
Across the province throughout the month of June, stories like this unfolded in parks and public spaces where every Schlegel Village set up an #ElderWisdom bench and residents took time to speak with passersby who had a few minutes to spare.
A few minutes; that seems to be the key theme to emerge this year, as time and again people like Ashley commented about how those few minutes can make all the difference in changing perceptions of the role of the elder in our communities.
“The idea of taking those five minutes out of your lunchtime and chatting with a stranger, a senior, can give someone a whole different mindset,” says Ted Mahy, Schlegel Villages director of online engagement and a key spearhead behind the #ElderWisdom campaign.
“It’s not just about getting people sitting upon the bench. It’s the fact that they’re seeing what we’re doing and they’ve heard about why we’re doing it.”
And villages are taking this message beyond the month of June, realizing they can build connections within their communities any time of year. Karen Andrews from Coleman Care Centre in Barrie, for example, is working alongside residents to create events in July and in the fall at places like the public library and Georgian College. A local Starbucks is even looking to host an #Elderwisdom event.
“It really hit me that I could do more things with (the #ElderWisdom bench),” Karen says, “and I feel like when we’re doing these things we’re helping change people’s perspectives.”
On Monday, June 10th at 3:30 in the afternoon, Ron Schlegel joined the #ElderWisdom campaign on Twitter to answer some submitted questions to him. We will share some of those questions and answers here for you. If you wish to participate in the conversation, view the following tweet and the replies attached to it.
Q: A question from @SchlegelCentre to @RonaldPSchlegel. Given your incredible expertise and generosity, what advice do you have for young people looking for a career in seniors care?
A: It is a fulling and meaningful career. Senior living is a good area to select because it doesn’t take much to make a senior’s day. Very little interface with a senior and they are so appreciative and hence highly rewarding back to yourself.
Q: A question from @DaveJaworsky. Canada is an affluent country, yet there are still many needs. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved and help out?
A: There are many many needs in society so its important that one selects the area that interests them and to which they can contribute. It’s important to commit one’s self to continue until a difference is made. Passion needs to be demonstrated throughout.
Q: A question from @jjluhkim. If you had a magic wand and you were able to fast forward 10 years from now, what would that ideal future of Schlegel Villages look like?
A: We would continue with our town square/main street villages but adding more choice points for seniors. Including expanded fitness facilities, possibly swimming pool/sauna/hot tub. Also, add smart homes as an additional living choice on our campus.
Follow @RonaldPSchlegel on Twitter and feel free to ask him a question as he learns how to use this tool.
On a sunny afternoon at the end of May, two old friends sit upon a green bench in a park-like setting in the city of Guelph. They are busy men in their senior years and it’s been some time since they’ve shared time and space together, though their conversation flows as freely as if no time has passed at all.
They are men of wisdom, earned through lifetimes spent in the service of community, and in their cases, the definition of community is broad. The Right Honourable David Johnston grew from humble upbringings in northern Ontario where he played hockey with Hall of Famers Phil and Tony Esposito before eventually earning a place in Harvard University’s Sports Hall of Fame along with a BA from the Ivy League institution. After a distinguished career in academia as a professor of law and eventually, principal and vice-chancellor of two of Canada’s most reputable universities, he served as Canada’s 28th Governor General.
The friend beside him in this sunny spring day is Ron Schlegel, a dedicated academic in his own right, a philanthropist with a passion for building strong, connected communities and the visionary behind the creation of Schlegel Villages. The bench they sit upon is a symbol of elder wisdom, and throughout the month of June benches like this will spring up in parks and public place in cities across Ontario. Residents of Schlegel Villages will sit upon them, inviting passersby to join them in conversation while reminding their communities of the vast wealth of wisdom contained in the stories of society’s oldest generations.
Ron and David share stories between them this day. They talk of wisdom gained throughout the years – not the kind taught in university lecture halls or boardrooms, but that which is earned through life experience and the failures that so often define it. They talk of finding satisfaction in the joy of others, and seeing that in the eyes of their children and grandchildren.
“If you are a father or grandfather, as we both are, your aspirations are a little different than they were at 21 and you see your satisfaction in the joy of others,” David says as Ron nods in agreement. “I suppose that’s what I hope those of us who’ve been on this planet earth for almost eight decades can share with others.”
The entire concept of the Green Bench and the #ElderWisdom campaign during senior’s month is to encourage this type of sharing.
“Seniors have so much to give and it’s important to start sharing some of that wisdom,” Ron says. “We tend to put seniors off to the side in our society; we need to bring them out to the centre.”
David points out that isolation, not only among seniors but across all age groups in the wake of the digital revolution, is a great danger, and the simple act of taking time to spend a few moments upon a bench in conversation can symbolize a way past this concern.
“We have become, in a sense, a little less human in relationships . . . and I think isolation is one of the great problems in our society,” he says. “There is great comfort, great knowledge and great opportunity in bridging those generational gaps and seeing isolation as very much an enemy, very much a danger, very much something that should be seen as an obstacle to be overcome and diminished.”
The green bench and the wisdom of our elders it represents is a place for rest and reflection, a place to ask questions and offer advice. Upon it, even if only for a moment, the world can stop turning and two people can find connection. Within the ever-quickening pace of society, this concept offers simple respite, and all are welcome to take part and honour the beauty of human connectivity.