June is Senior Citizens Month, a celebration and recognition of the contribution seniors make in our communities. They have a great deal to contribute to society in terms of expertise and life experience.
As examples, senior advisory, age-friendly committees and councils have been a strong voice for seniors, providing advice to all levels of government and policy makers related to the health, well-being and quality of life.
My first experience serving on a senior advisory council or committee was in 1976 when I was appointed to the Ontario Advisory Council on Senior Citizens. Other examples I had the privilege of serving on include the National Advisory Council On Aging, Veterans Affairs Canada Gerontology Advisory Committee and Welland Senior Citizens Advisory Committee. These councils and committees were mandated to provide advice to all levels of government that impact the lives of older adults.
The membership included senior advocates, senior organization representatives, academics, politicians and experts in the field of aging and advised on current and emerging issues and opportunities related to quality of life and well-being of seniors now and in the future.
These councils and committees play an important leadership role in prioritizing issues, that help to shape policies and by soliciting input though public consultation.
“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” (James Humes)
In Niagara, the first Senior Citizens Advisory Committee was appointed by Welland City Council In 2007. In the Niagara Aging Strategy and Action Plan, it was recommended that all municipalities establish Senior or Age-Friendly Advisory Committees to be a voice for seniors in our local communities.
The Niagara Age-Friendly Leadership Council followed up on this recommendation, making presentations to local councils and today we have 10 municipalities with Senior Citizens Advisory or Age-Friendly Committees and others under consideration. Having political support is important for the success of the Age-Friendly movement in Niagara.
The general purpose of these advisory committees is to serve in an advisory capacity to councils and staff by promoting awareness of the needs of older adults and the things that impacts the quality of life in our communities and support age-friendly community initiatives. The people who serve on these committees are volunteers and are champions in supporting the needs of older adults.
Last year three communities--Thorold, St. Catharines and Welland- were recognized with an Ontario Age-Friendly Community Recognition Award.
When receiving the award, Welland Mayor Frank Campion stated, “I’m elated that the Senior Citizen Advisory Committee, through their hard work and dedication to our community, enabled us to achieve this recognition. The committee helped break down the barriers and grow a socially responsible city that enhances the lives for all ages.”
As our population continues to age, the mandate of these committees becomes more important.
The Age-Friendly leadership Council and Network are another strong voice working to implement the recommendations in the Niagara Aging Strategy and Action Plan and working together to build a caring community for all ages.
I cannot mention them all but there are other organizations that are a voice for older adults, like CARP, long-term care and Community Care organizations, Alzheimer Societies, Health Coalitions, senior clubs, political organizations, long-term care resident and family councils, universities, colleges, etc.
It has been proposed that the next important step could be a Council on Aging for Niagara, something that has been established in other communities and would be a strong single coordinated voice for Niagara.
Our vision for Niagara continues to be: “A caring community that optimizes opportunities for overall well-being to enhance quality of life as people age.”
We must keep our voice strong as Niagara has one of the oldest populations in Canada, and growing.
Senior Citizens Month is a good time to have our voice heard and be reminded that Age-Friendly Communities support people to age safely, enjoy good health and to continue to participate fully in their community.
“The human voice is the most powerful instrument of all." Arvo Pärt