The History of Seniors Supports
by Andrew McCutcheon
One of the most vital services Kerby Centre has provided in its 50-year history is our incredible information department.
There are so many questions involved in getting older and no easy way to get answers.
Everything from accessing housing support, pensions, or the annual tax clinics are some of the more obvious questions the information department helps answer in the day-to-day. But it’s more than just answers to questions of bureaucracy, paperwork and red tape.
This department is a place of safety and assistance for times when our community members might be filled with fear or confusion. It feels so good to go to a place where you aren’t shuffled off, where people will listen to what you have to say and where you will get the support you need.
This is why we’re renaming our information department into Seniors Supports. Nothing will change in regards to the service they provide, but the name will better reflect all the amazing work they do when it comes to … well. Supporting seniors!
It’s so exciting to see the department recognized for the breadth of work they do these days, but as it is a major anniversary, it’s also interesting to look back at the humble origins from five decades previous, from even before the Centre was established.
According to Kerby Centre History, a document written and compiled by Ken McGuire, the information service was the first major program available at Kerby Centre.
“The idea was to provide general assistance, advice and information on specific services to senior citizens who did not know where to go for help. For example, one day in 1972 an elderly man while walking down the street found the [Seniors Citizens Central] Council1 office quite by accident. He had an abscessed tooth but didn’t know where to turn. He didn’t know there was an Alberta Medical plan that could help with some of the financial burden.”
When the council moved into their space at the Central United Church, a telephone was installed and Kerby Centre founder Pat Allen began to train senior volunteers to answer questions and provide support. The first volunteer we know of who worked the phone was Mrs. Jean Parks — later Mrs. Jean Burlow — who was a member of the Lady Lawn Bowlers Association.
It was expanded later in February of 1973 with the reception of a New Horizons grant: volunteers Isabel Miller, Les Godden and Annette McCullough became part of the team.
Later in June 1973, a revised list which included discounts for seniors, church activities and various important phone numbers for agencies and ministries was published with the help of this budding information department. This would be the first iteration of what would become the Seniors Directory — a publication which persists to this day!
In October, the expansion continued: a housing registry was created by a volunteer named Ethyl Brunton, which kept listings of “private accommodations at reasonable rents and she, or another volunteer, would inspect the listings to be sure they were suitable for senior citizens.”
1 The Senior Citizens’ Central Council of Calgary was the precursor to the Kerby Centre.