INNISFAIL – Over the past four months, local seniors worked with volunteers to create a special project that will have a lasting loving impact for future generations.
These are memories to share with their family members; today and into the future. These are facts from their past for the young of today and tomorrow, and they will be preserved forever.
The work from 11 seniors and seven volunteers from last October until December is the result of the Innisfail Generations Legacy Project; an initiative led by the local Age Friendly Community Committee (AFCC) and brought forward through a partnership with the Community Partners in Action, which includes Alberta Health Services (AHS), Wolf Creek PCN, Town of Innisfail and Innisfail FCSS.
“I did enjoy it. It was kind of fun to reminisce because there's suddenly things brought to mind that you have forgotten, and maybe they really were important and that you can relive that, and then you can share,” said Innisfail senior and project participant Karen Bishop.
Her volunteer Doris Kibermanis, a retired AHS homecare worker and AFCC member, said she was “intrigued” with some of the questions she was tasked to ask Bishop and discovered she “loved” the senior’s life.
“She didn't realize that she had such a wonderful life. But what I loved about her life is that she grew up in very hard times and her mum and dad were very poor,” said Kibermanis. “They had to take in boarders, and they lived off next to nothing. But she thought she had a wonderful childhood and she never thought that she went without.”
Organizing the project began last June. Innisfail was one of five Alberta rural communities to receive a $6,000 Health Canada Grant.
With that grant, project partners agreed to move forward with the Innisfail Generations Legacy Project.
Sandy Wacker, the town’s community support and age friendly facilitator, presented high priority areas to the Age Friendly Community Committee last year, and the Innisfail Generations Legacy Project was identified as a good way to build local intergenerational relationships that would strengthen connections for people living with dementia and increase awareness and understanding of volunteers.
Project partners also believed the initiative was not only for people living with dementia but also other citizens in the community who were interested in writing and sharing their life stories.
Wacker said the premise was to match seniors with volunteers to write their life stories and to leave a legacy for loved ones; stories that would be filled with facts about their lives, along with many important memories.
The volunteers used a book called “A Lifetime of Memories” to help guide their conversations with their volunteer partner.
“Although the official end to the grant project ended in December, the hope is that the individuals built relationships over the four months and will continue with their relationships in the future,” said Wacker, adding the goal was also to decrease loneliness and isolation, and support community members with volunteer opportunities.
Ellen Helgason, a member of the Community Partners in Action group, said the project was so successful that volunteers have chosen to remain connected with their participants, and the project will continue for any local senior that wants to take part.
She also underscored that project was led with committed dedication by AFCC.
“This was their project. We just supported it sort of in the background,” said Helgason, noting the Community Partners in Action role included guiding participants and volunteers, and to help with advertising. “They took that information and pounded the pavement to seek out some of those volunteers and participants from the community.
“We wanted to support them (volunteers) in learning how to connect with other people. They could be connecting with someone who's living with dementia, anyone depending on who signed up,” she added. “It was how to write the book, how to engage that individual, and how to work with them if maybe one of the topics was a bit sensitive and upsetting.
“How do you support someone in that? That is still part of all of our history; the positive and the negative.”
For Kibermanis, she believes the project will enable the community to “save” the stories “behind the name” and preserve them indefinitely.
“It's something for your kids and grandchildren to see what they endured and what their parents were like because probably many grandchildren don't even know your mum and dad. It’s just a name,” said Kibermanis. “It's just very interesting that this actually lets you know they had a life and they had an interesting life, and some of the things they had to endure that we just take for granted.”