A “typical day in the office” is anything but typical for Charlene Fletcher. As the Seniors and Intergenerational Program Developer for Chinook Arch Regional Library System, her day often begins with a quick stop at the office to gather boxes of supplies and then driving anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half to one of the system’s member libraries. Once there she sets up for her class, greets participants (who range in ages 1 to 100), delivers that day’s program, packs up, and drives back to the office to unpack and prepare for the next day. And then she does it all over again the next day, and the next, and the next.
Programming support was identified as a need by Chinook Arch member libraries and is part of the organization’s 2019-2022 Plan of Service. When the opportunity arose to apply for a Government of Alberta Aging Well in Community Grant, the Program Developer position was created. Charlene was hired in April 2019 and the Seniors and Intergenerational Program runs from June 2019 to February 2021.
“This program will impact a wide range of people as Charlene travels across southwest Alberta offering seven unique classes in over 25 public libraries,” explains Lisa Weekes, Manager of Partnerships & Community Development. “While the classes are designed to encourage intergenerational interactions that are lighthearted and fun, the goal of the entire program is to promote social inclusion of the senior population and to address ageism within our communities.”
With that goal in mind, Charlene was tasked with designing the program. Currently in school for Therapeutic Recreation – Gerontology, improving the lives of seniors is one of Charlene’s passions, and it shows. As she brainstormed ideas for the seven different classes that would take place over a two year span, she also envisioned what the larger outcome would be; both in people’s lives and within the communities she visited. She came up with three areas of focus: Create, Build, and Grow.
“The benefits of intergenerational connection for seniors include decreased depression, better physical health, improved brain health, and higher life satisfaction,” says Charlene. “I also believe the benefits go beyond the individual level, and that building connections between generations has positive effects on an entire community.”
When it came to creating the seven unique class themes and accompanying activities, it was important to Charlene that they were not only fun, but that they were easily adaptable for differing abilities and ages. They also needed to foster positive shared experiences between generations.
“Every theme and activity was chosen for a reason,” explains Charlene. “As we progress through the classes we hope to have repeat attendees, making the last few classes even more meaningful through increased cooperation and comfortable conversation.”
The seven class themes Charlene created are: Fun and Games, Art Adventures, Robot Fun, STEAM Kits, Kindness Rocks, Orienteering/Mapping, and Storytelling.
Beyond creating a positive experience for attendees, Charlene is also building a framework that member libraries can access after this project is complete. This will allow those interested to continue hosting intergenerational programs, without having to create their own from scratch.
Libraries are often referred to as the hub of their community, and through Chinook Arch’s support in offering this program, it is hoped that new relationships with other community organizations are built. Programs like these strengthen communities, however in smaller communities it’s particularly important to ensure you aren’t recreating what another organization is already doing. Part of Charlene’s work is identifying potential community partners and helping to build connections.
“In each community I visit, I have met some amazing individuals who are already bettering their communities thought their programs,” smiles Charlene. “I have been able to partner with such groups as Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), seniors groups, care centres, Early Childhood Coalitions and Brighter Futures programs. These community partners have proven invaluable in helping to promote and encourage the development of intergenerational programs in their community libraries.”
As was already mentioned, it is anticipated that over the course of the seven classes there will be repeat attendees. The potential is there for lasting relationships to form and to remain after this program is complete.
Through the course of this program, Charlene is building strong relationships with library managers and staff and has the unique opportunity to see firsthand the challenges and possibilities each library faces. Because of this, she will have the ability to tailor her program framework to the needs of the smaller libraries in the system. The hope is that each library can grow its capacity to offer programming, resources, and knowledge that is of value to their particular community.
Growing an increased sense of community belonging in program participants is also a goal for Charlene. “By fostering connections that would otherwise not exist, we are making a real difference in people’s lives,” says Charlene. “Too often we get caught up in our own lives. This program is a nice reminder that when we look outside of ourselves, even for a short time, we have the ability to positively impact someone else’s day and life. There is real power in that.”
PROGRAM STATISTICS TO DATE
About Chinook Arch
Formed in 1992, Chinook Arch Regional Library System creates and supports the structure for a network of 33 cooperating libraries in southwest Alberta to share resources in a cost-effective manner. Chinook Arch employs 27 library, bibliographic, information technology, and administrative staff at its Lethbridge-based office.
Chinook Arch member libraries operate in a diverse range of communities in size (from villages and hamlets of less than 100 people, up to the urban centre of Lethbridge at close to 100,000 in population) and cultural diversity. These libraries act as community information and resource hubs for people of all ages and abilities.
Joey Going is the Communications Specialist at Chinook Arch Regional Library System. She loves to write, drink tea, crunch leaves under her boots, and laugh until her stomach hurts. Not necessarily in that order.