Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, right, presents a cheque for nearly $5,000 to Nancy Leithead, president of the Fir Park Village Society, with support from Fir Park director of programming Surjit Jhaj, left, and Jerry Linning, vice-president of the Alberni Valley Continuing Care Society. The grant is for a new Peer Mentoring for Seniors by Seniors program.                                 SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, right, presents a cheque for nearly $5,000 to Nancy Leithead, president of the Fir Park Village Society, with support from Fir Park director of programming Surjit Jhaj, left, and Jerry Linning, vice-president of the Alberni Valley Continuing Care Society. The grant is for a new Peer Mentoring for Seniors by Seniors program. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

SENIORS: Peer mentoring gets gov’t boost at Fir Park Village in Port Alberni

Peer mentoring program is helping seniors find purpose

A peer mentoring program established at Fir Park Village in Port Alberni in April is helping seniors find purpose in their days.

“It has been a huge success,” said Surjit Jhaj, director of programming and adult day services at Fir Park. The program, called Java Mentorship, is peer mentoring for seniors, by seniors.

“Loneliness and social isolation are ongoing concerns in our long-term care community,” he said. “Even though numerous social events are provided in our calendar, there are still vulnerable residents that refuse all invitations to attend programs and spend most of their time in their rooms.”

Java Mentorship is researched intervention that was developed and evaluated with seniors. The Alberni Continuing Care Society received a $5,000 New Horizons for Seniors small grant in March to establish this program first at Echo Village, then Fir Park Village.

The program leans on volunteers from the community and residents who act as mentors. They will meet weekly for training on how to be a mentor, how to provide support and how to identify seniors who need it most. After team meetings the volunteers pair up and visit with seniors identified by the team. The idea is to build trusting relationships.

“The main objective of this project is to reduce loneliness,” Jhaj said. “Engaging seniors—residents and community volunteers—as mentors will increase meaningful social engagement among both the mentors and the visited, and reduce social isolation in our community.”

Nancy Leithead, president of the Fir Park Village Society, said a mentoring program would benefit residents. “It will keep them busy and give them something to think about,” she said.

“It makes their day more interesting,” said Jerry Linning, vice-president of the Alberni Valley Continuing Care Society.

“They could be reading to them, talking to them,” Jhaj said. “It’s peer to peer so they may open up more to their peers.”

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, who presented the grant to Leithead, said this was one of several smaller projects receiving funding in the riding this year. “This project is unique, and that’s why it got funding,” Johns said. “It really did embody the spirit of the (New Horizons) program.”

Johns said England has a Ministry of Loneliness and a loneliness strategy that combats the issues addressed in the Java Mentorship program. He sees the value of having similar programs in place in Canada.

“There is a financial cost to loneliness,” he added.

“It’s detrimental to people’s health.”

At present, there are more people interested in being paired with a mentor than there are mentors, so Jhaj is searching for more volunteers.

Volunteers need to be available Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Retirees are preferred, but there is no age limit. Training will be provided.

To apply, go online to https://albernicontinuingcare.ca/volunteer and fill out an application (including a criminal record check form), then drop it off at Fir Park Village.

Application forms are also available at Fir Park.

Phone 250-724-6541 ext. 253 or e-mail sjhaj@acccs.ca.