The ever-increasing population of senior citizens in the GTA has brought greater awareness to the critical need for more resources addressing their needs. In the case of LGBTQ+ seniors, the lack of resources that encourage and accept diversity adds anxiety to an already difficult situation – a consultation conducted in 2017 by Egale Canada found more than half of LGBTQ+ seniors felt pressured to go “back into the closet” to obtain proper residential care, free of prejudice.
The Sunshine Centres for Seniors – a Toronto-based non-profit organization that offers social, recreational and health programs – emphasizes inclusivity in their mandate, welcoming LGBTQ+ older adults, as well as those from varying racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds, seniors with disabilities, and those new to Canada.
In 2017, they received a Foundation Grant from Community One Foundation for their Rainbow Outings program, an inclusive series of walking tours through Toronto, giving participants an opportunity to socialize and exercise while learning about the history of their city. The Rainbow Grants Allocations Committee enthusiastically recommended funding for the program under the health and social services pillar, considering how it delivered the type of well-rounded support that is lacking for older LGBTQ+ adults in the GTA.
— TGC (@tgreencommunity) October 18, 2017
“Our goals with this project were to reduce isolation for LGBTQ+ seniors, maintain and enhance their physical health and foster a sense of belonging and community,” said Jacquie Buncel, Executive Director of Sunshine Centres for Seniors. “One of the program facilitators suggested historical tours of Toronto based on the program participants’ interest in history, politics and current affairs. Other staff built on this idea, adding an art-making element and guest speakers.”
Helping LGBTQ+ seniors reduce isolation doesn’t just improve quality of life, but also crucial psychological skills and health. A 2016 study by the National Institute of Health found that physical activity improved cognitive functioning in older adults, and those who took part in aerobic activities such as walking had better working memory and problem solving skills. Adding to those health benefits, Buncel and her team included diversity in education as an important part of the project.
“Receiving a Rainbow Grant enabled us to take the participants out into the community to experience parts of Toronto they may not normally have sought out on their own,” said Buncel. “This grant also gave us the opportunity to show our seniors Toronto’s history from marginalized perspectives, for example, an Indigenous perspective.
“One particular outing that stands out is the Lost Rivers walking tour. Most of the participants were unaware that there is a network of creeks and streams under the pavement of downtown Toronto that have been buried by urban development. It was a fascinating tour that made us all look at our city through a different lens. It was also a wonderful way to get some exercise together outside on a beautiful fall day.”
Buncel notes that the experience helped strengthen the connection between staff members and participants, as they shared in the learning experience together.
Sunshine Centres continues to develop new and engaging programs for seniors, most recently a social/recreational project aimed at helping senior men reduce social isolation, and having staff run day programming for residents at long-term care facilities. To see upcoming events, visit their website at sunshinecentres.com.