Published August 28, 2018
This past summer, we happily welcomed Charlotte Choi to the RCRG team. A co-op student from UBC - she's majoring in Sociology - Charlotte spent three months in our Seniors Community Support Services department, where she helped run our grocery shopping and transportation programs, and played a key role in organizing a bi-annual health and wellness event, known as Summer WHAM. Along the way, Charlotte gained an appreciation for the challenges seniors face, but more importantly, for their resilience and perseverance in spite of those challenges. She wonderfully captures her experience, and everything she learned, in this insightful blog post.
In the blink of an eye, my summer at RCRG has come to an end. My days in the Seniors Community Support Services
department as a Program Assistant were eventful and full of learning opportunities. Despite not knowing much about Richmond and its social services for seniors, I was quickly immersed and brought up to speed by a wonderful team. I was amazed by not only the variety of services RCRG provided for seniors, but also by the dedication of our volunteers.
One of my main responsibilities was to assist with the Shop-by-Phone program. Every Tuesday and Thursday at the Seafair Safeway, you’ll find a team of volunteer shoppers, each shopping for a senior’s personalized grocery order. You’ll see checkers looking over each cart, before bringing it to a till where yet another volunteer might be checking it through. It’s truly a sight to behold.
Being part of this program was an incredible thing. It was an honour to be directly involved in a senior's diet, to pick out the groceries that they would eat throughout the week. On a typical Tuesday, the shopping team of staff and volunteers could see over 30 individual grocery orders.
Sometimes, I would assist with the Group Shopping program as well, in which seniors come to the supermarket to shop together with volunteers. Interacting with the clients was a delight, and seeing these programs relied upon confirmed that our efforts directly impact seniors’ lives in a positive way.
Another one of my main responsibilities was to man the transportation desk. Before working at RCRG, I took for granted being able to move about our city with its well-established transit system. But did you know that, in one month, over 200 ride requests can be made by up to 70 seniors?
In this position I constantly contacted clients and volunteer drivers, trying to match requests so clients could attend their appointments. It was almost like a riddle to solve: "If we have x number of drivers available Thursday, and there are x number of ride requests, factoring in time and distance of each appointment, how should we allocate resources?"
Sometimes it isn't possible to fulfill every ride request that comes in, and we definitely feel the shortage of volunteer drivers
and regret when we have to tell a client that we couldn't find them a ride.
But the volunteer drivers we do have constantly go above and beyond, both in terms of their dedication to the program, and their generous donation of time (and mileage!). The sheer amount of ride requests I sent, in addition to the follow-up emails if any details changed, could have been overwhelming, but our volunteer drivers kept track of it all. The times that clients got back to me, exclaiming what a great driver they had, are moments I’ll cherish.
Other responsibilities I had included going out to community wellness clinics and promoting our services to seniors who may not have heard about them. I would ask about a senior's living or transportation situation and, if applicable, introduce our services to them, in hopes that we could help them more easily live independently.
Even if, at the moment, a senior does not require a service, sharing the fact that there are resources to help them if they need it decreases the chances that they’ll live in isolation without adequate support.
Finally, a highlight of my summer at RCRG would have to be helping out at the bi-annual Wellness Health and More event – Summer WHAM – connecting seniors to Richmond's many non-profit agencies and, this year, educating seniors about food security.
I supported by coordinating logistics like schedule run-downs, floor guides and volunteer support, and the management of registration tables. It was a joy to see the participation of the seniors, who interacted with other non-profit agencies and learned about community resources for healthy living. I appreciated the moments where I could see RCRG as a piece of the community, working with other non-profit agencies, all hoping to improve seniors’ lives in some way.
Now I find myself introducing my friends in Vancouver to a Better at Home program in their neighbourhood for their grandparents. Before I worked at RCRG, I knew of the issues seniors faced from an academic standpoint, by way of my sociology education. But after interacting with seniors in Richmond through RCRG, the issues I learned were not just representative of an entire demographic, but real-life challenges that many seniors face.
Working at RCRG also showed me that there are still holes within community or government resources where seniors will fall through, such as when they call requesting services that we can't provide, or when they're not eligible for a service. Richmond has great support for seniors, but there is always more that can be done.
That is not to say all seniors are in a state of needing help. I met others who led exciting lives, and many of our dedicated volunteers are seniors themselves! I got a glimpse of an entire spectrum of seniors in different situations. RCRG taught me about the beauty of an individual's life in their retirement years.
I'm thankful to RCRG for showing me the ropes of a non-profit organization, and for opening my eyes to the social support services available to seniors in Richmond. I'm incredibly grateful for the times I've been able to interact with and help seniors, whether through arranging rides or getting groceries or just being a listening ear.
Currently, I'm not quite sure what career I'd like to pursue, other than that I'd like to continue working in community settings such as this. But RCRG has taught me organizational skills in supporting so many programs at once, and interpersonal skills from being in a team and working with other volunteers and staff, all of which will surely benefit me wherever I go.
Thank you RCRG for all the support and development I've received, and for being such an enjoyable and rewarding work environment!
Photo Caption: Charlotte Choi at Summer WHAM, a free health and wellness event for older adults that she helped organize.