A group of seniors say the loss of their dedicated part-time programmer at Trout Lake Community Centre is a sign the elderly who attend the facility have lost their voice.
The seniors gathered around a table in a meeting room of a co-op near East Hastings Street and Victoria Drive Tuesday afternoon to pass around a handwritten petition asking that the position be reinstated. Jen Wright, the programmer who recently lost her job, was in attendance.
Wright said the seniors invited her to attend the meeting to show their appreciation. When Wright took the position 11 years ago, she worked 16 hours a week. More recently her hours had been reduced to eight.
"I'm disappointed," said Wright. "I worked really hard to make sure our seniors were engaged and involved."
Wright launched several successful clubs for seniors during her time at Trout Lake including the popular creative writing course, crafts and knitting. The seniors gathered Tuesday said one of Wright's best attributes was her ability to bring in talented and friendly volunteers. The seniors said Wright kept track of participants who hadn't shown up when expected and visited elderly club members when they were in the hospital or alone on Christmas Day.
"It's disappointing and destroyed my creative juices," joked 79-year-old Lionel Jinks, who's been attending the creative writing courses at Trout Lake. "But seriously, we're going to miss Jen."
Dorothy Johnson, also 79, has attended classes at Trout Lake "for years." Johnson is afraid seniors who Wright coaxed out of isolation will become shut-ins once again.
"Hopefully they'll come back," said Johnson. "There was a survey that showed the West Side is well serviced when it comes to seniors, but the East Side isn't."
In an email to the Courier, park board media spokesperson Joyce Courtney said to maximize use of the auxiliary support budget at the facility the eight hours were moved to help pay for needed program administration.
"This change resulted in a shortage of work for the auxiliary employee who left the centre," wrote Courtney. "Trout Lake's full time recreation programmer has now assumed responsibility for seniors' activities."
Courtney noted there has been no loss of programming or customer service for seniors this fall. As well, the centre recently started a Seniors Advisory Committee to help shape programming.
"Activities for older adults continue to be a very important part of the community recreation programs at Trout Lake," wrote Courtney.
Seniors activist Lorna Gibbs disagrees.
Gibbs told the Courier community centres must have staff dedicated to this city's aging population.
"You can say that seniors from the Fraser River to East Hastings have definitely been overlooked," said Gibbs, president of South Vancouver Seniors Arts and Cultural Society, chair of the Seniors of South Van Neighbourhood House and president of Southeast Vancouver Seniors Centre Society.
Gibbs, who has been fighting for a dedicated seniors centre in Southeast Vancouver for more than decade, said the elderly, particularly on the city's East Side are not being heard. She warned seniors are a rapidly growing demographic who aren't afraid to vote, so politicians at all levels of government should pay attention.
"The signs of a healthy community is how you treat your youth and seniors," said Gibbs.