Edmonton Aboriginal Senior’s Centre has something for everyone

The Edmonton Aboriginal Senior’s Centre (EASC) is a facility full of surprises – interesting  programs, ongoing initiatives and entertaining events. The 28 year old organization offers a variety of programs and services to seniors, both under and over 55 years of age. The Centre is located at 10107 – 134 Avenue (Cottage E) in Edmonton and it’s open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. It includes a Drop-in Centre, an Urban Native Housing Registry, Outreach Programs, Computer Programs and much more.

Last month, the fiddle group from Prince Charles School participated in a jam session at the senior’s centre. The young and very talented Grade 5 and 6 musicians, being taught by the school’s music teachers, Judy Gatto and Gary Lee, are in big demand in the Capital Region and there was a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the event.

The Prince Charles School Fiddlers: seated in front (l-r) Ethan McNeil, Garry Lee, Judy Gatto standing (l-r) Rickal Lafontaine, Xiadani Ramirez, T’Keyah Desjarlais, Kaylee Baxter, Demaris Badger, Pierce Cardinal, Sarah Dornbusch, Chante Okemow, Ben Nicholas

The Prince Charles School Fiddlers: seated in front (l-r) Ethan McNeil, Garry Lee, Judy Gatto standing (l-r) Rickal Lafontaine, Xiadani Ramirez, T’Keyah Desjarlais, Kaylee Baxter, Demaris Badger, Pierce Cardinal, Sarah Dornbusch, Chante Okemow, Ben Nicholas .    Article and photos by John Copley 

“We are all so very proud of them,” beamed Gatto, who lauded the efforts and accomplishments of the school’s music students, noting “this is our new group of soaring musicians. They are the best of the best and I’d put them up against any group when it comes to musical skills. The parents are all very pleased with their children’s musical achievements; they are indeed remarkable achievements.”

Forever Young Band (l-r) Wesley Cardinal, Doreen Pruden-Logan and Leonard Venne (band member Billy Sinclair not shown)

Forever Young Band (l-r) Wesley Cardinal, Doreen Pruden-Logan and Leonard Venne (band member Billy Sinclair not shown)

Wesley Cardinal, Doreen Pruden-Logan and Leonard Venne were on the stage to get the jam session underway; they were joined later by the fourth member of their  ‘Forever Young Band’,  Billy Sinclair. The session took place just a couple of days before Halloween and just about everybody came dressed for the occasion. There was a cat-like figure with painted face (Felicity Collins) and a top hat dancer/comedian (Danny Tremoyne) as well as an Elvis look-a-like (Billy Chalifoux) who had the moves to prove he can shake it.

“I’m 86 years old,” he smiled, chuckling as he shuffled his legs and swung this hips like a youngster. “I can still dance; I’ve still got the moves – check it out, the ladies love it.”

Indeed they did; the large dining room used to accommodate the jam session was filled with smiling faces and cheerful voices, laughter and hand-clapping was the order of the day.

The Prince Charles School Fiddle group brought smiles of joy as they filed into the room and made their way to the front of the 60 or so seniors who’d filled the tables to watch the entertainment after the luncheon was complete. The group played a half dozen songs and then really strutted their stuff as they walked, then ran, and finally flew through the popular theme song that once introduced The Lone Ranger to TV audiences everywhere.

Lead singer Gareth Haugen is accompanied by Wesley Cardinal (l) and Leonard Venne (r)

Lead singer Gareth Haugen is accompanied by Wesley Cardinal (l) and Leonard Venne (r)

“It’s one of their favourites,” smiled Gary Lee, as he picked his way through the up-tempo tune with flurried fingers, tapping toes and grinning like there’s no tomorrow. “It is such a great pleasure to work with these young students; their musical ability is uncanny. A lot of kids have come through the program over the years and they just keep getting better and better.”

Garth Haugen was another singer/musician who took to the stage; accompanied by Cardinal and Venne he sang a medley of country-style songs that had the house nodding and foot-tapping to the tunes he performed during his 10 minute exhibition.

The Edmonton Aboriginal Senior’s Centre was first established as the Metis Women’s Council of Edmonton on October 20, 1986. With only two staff members the initiative was based on a holistic vision of ‘wellness’ and focussed on fostering a sense of community among Aboriginal seniors in Edmonton. In 1994 the agency moved from a tiny run-down house beside the Coliseum to its present location and underwent a name change from the Metis Women’s Council to the Native Seniors Centre. In the last couple of years the name was changed again and became the Edmonton Aboriginal Senior’s Centre.

Alberta Aboriginal Senior's Centre Executive Director Jori Hunter.

Alberta Aboriginal Senior’s Centre Executive Director Jori Hunter

“We are the only Aboriginal seniors centre in Canada and a major resource for Aboriginal seniors living in Alberta’s capital,” explained Executive Director, Jori Hunter during a recent interview. “Along with providing a meeting and gathering place for social, educational, recreational, spiritual and inter-generational activities, we offer a variety of daily, weekly, monthly and annual programs and services designed to enhance quality of life and promote active healthy lifestyles.”

The Centre, which has seen several managers come and go during the last year, hired Hunter, in August 2014. She brings a wealth of knowledge and professionalism to the job. The friendly, upbeat staff, said several members of the Centre, “are fun to be around, full of energy and they make you comfortable and happy that you came.”

“I certainly appreciate hearing those comments,” smiled Hunter, who joined the Centre in an “effort to steer it into a future that continues to enhance the quality of life and deliver meaningful programs and services to aging Aboriginal citizens in the Capital Region. We have made a few changes and reintroduced some of the programs that had gone by the wayside over the past several years and the feedback from our members has been very positive.”

Hunter’s career spans 30 years and includes various management and administrative roles, including her experience as Executive Director of the Aboriginal Women’s Professional Association from 2011 to 2013. In 2010 she earned a designation as Real Property Administrator, a designation that is helping to guide the work of EASC’s Aboriginal Housing Registry.

“I have a solid business background, years of hands-on experience in administration and management, and have worked with a number of Aboriginal agencies over the years. I find that my experience and lifetime commitment supports my ability to lead the Edmonton Aboriginal Seniors Centre efficiently and effectively using kindness and compassion as my guide.”

Comedian, singer/dancer Danny Tremoyne takes the lead at EASC Halloween jam session

Comedian, singer/dancer Danny Tremoyne takes the lead at EASC Halloween jam session

The Edmonton Aboriginal Seniors Centre is a one of a kind membership based registered charitable organization governed by a volunteer Board of Directors elected annually in the City of Edmonton. The Centre’s community profile is maintained through its memberships, partnerships, collaborations, and through the active participation in projects, events, and services offered in the greater City of Edmonton.

The Centre operates with a staff of just four people: the Executive Director, Housing Coordinator, Outreach Worker and Resource and Services Coordinator. Volunteers play a major role in the success of the facility and its programs; as do outside professionals, including a dentist who visits the Centre twice weekly and bi-monthly visits from the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON), who offer a Foot Care program for diabetic seniors. A librarian from the Edmonton Public Library also visits the Centre and meets with its members.

“We also have several part time workers, including a janitor and a finance services person,” noted Hunter. “We rely on our corps of volunteers and are always looking for people interested in helping out at the Centre.”

EASC also has an excellent Nutritional Program that offers advice and ensures that seniors understand the importance of healthy eating, especially as it relates “to increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness and disease, higher energy levels and a more robust immune system.”

The Centre also provides its members with a weekly meal that is both nourishing and free. The meal, which is provided by a creative volunteer kitchen staff each Wednesday from noon to 1 pm, offers both western and cultural foods.

The Monday afternoon Medicine Wheel Program focuses on mind, spirit, and body, through the ongoing development of a variety of positive life betterment programming. Some of the implemented programming includes Yoga for Seniors and Spiritual Practices.

Beginner’s Cree and Conversational Cree are other EASC programs that not only promote language and laughter, but also such things as numbers, letters, animals, days of the week, months of the year and more.

Elvis impersonator 86 year old Billy Chalifoux struts his stuff

Elvis impersonator 86 year old Billy Chalifoux struts his stuff

The Computer Program is held every second Thursday of the month and is delivered by a trained Edmonton Public Library professional who shares insight into the world of computers and teaches basic skills about the internet and its various functions.

The outreach program assists members of the Edmonton Aboriginal Seniors Centre aged 50-plus in maintaining social and cultural connections and community awareness. A variety of services and referral programs are available to help senior’s address most issues. See the website for more information.

The Housing Registry project is designed to assist people on their search for decent affordable accommodations. Searches include anything from an apartment, house, duplex, and condo to a lodge, nursing home, and wheelchair accessible housing.

“Our Housing Coordinator compiles a complete up-to-date list of available housing in the Edmonton area,” explained Hunter. “This is done by contacting landlords, property managers, and private homeowners, and searching the internet and local newspapers. To receive a list, a person must first meet with the registrar, fill out a registration form and sign an agreement to report any changes in their application status.”

The Centre also hosts the monthly Music Jam Sessions – as explained earlier, a must-see, must-participate event for music lovers, musicians, comedians and entertainers – young and old.

Cribbage Tournaments have recently returned to the Senior Centre’s list of activities; something that many members wanted to see re-established.

“Our first one drew 20 players and we expect more as we continue,” explained Hunter. “There is a small $10 entry fee with 70 percent of the money returned as prizes to the winners. We invite everyone interested in participating to contact us about the next tournament. We hold them every second Friday of each month.”

Hunter has also initiated a morning exercise program for the Centre’s members on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Aboriginal Senior's Centre Event Organizer Amanda  L'Hirondelle

Aboriginal Senior’s Centre Event Organizer Amanda L’Hirondelle

“It gets underway at 7:30 am and runs for a half hour – just before we open,” she explained. “It’s not a real strenuous workout or anything; you work out at your own pace but the overall exercise is good for the body and the mind.”

Seniors interested in participating are asked to contact EASC Resource and Services Coordinator, Amanda L’Hirondelle. She can be reached by calling the Centre at 780-476-6595.

EASC currently has about 300 members, many of whom are over the age of 55, and some who are not.

“We don’t turn anybody away; you don’t have to be aged to be a member. We are looking to increase our membership during the coming year and as that increases so will the number of programs we have to offer.”

Members are currently also able to play pool, throw shuffle board rocks, have a coffee and relax, read a book in the library, access the internet in the computer room, work on projects in the sewing room or spend some time in the quiet room where prayer, smudges and solitude allows time for reflection and thought.

The EASC receives funding from the City of Edmonton Family and Community Support Services (F.C.S.S.) for the operation of the Drop-In Centre, Outreach and Volunteer programs; the Urban Native Housing Registry is funded by Alberta Municipal Affairs, Alberta Seniors.

The 8-member Board of Directors is comprised of members of the Centre; they are responsible for Policy and Procedure and Bylaws. Members of the Board also sit on various committees designed to oversee and support the needs of the membership. Board meetings are held at the Centre on the last Tuesday of each month except during summer months. The current Board Chair is Lorraine Savard.

For more information visit www.easc.ca.

by John Copley


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