We sat down for a holiday fireside chat with Gregor Sneddon, Executive Director at HelpAge Canada, to reflect on the past year, his wishes for older Canadians and what comes next.
If you could make one holiday wish for older Canadians this year, what would it be, and why?
My holiday wish for older Canadians is that every older Canadian get vaccinated, including a booster shot, and use their voice to encourage their family and friends to do so.
Looking back on this year, what are some accomplishments you’re most proud of?
We are proud to have launched several programs assisting vulnerable older people in Canada and around the world including: “Connected Elders and Youth”, an intergenerational digital literacy program in Nunavut; “Dig-IT’, a pan-Canadian digital literacy program for low income seniors; F.A.S.T Track, a pan-Canadian funding accelerator for senior transportation; the ‘Seniors Can!’ granting program addressing social inclusion for low income seniors; the Men’s Sheds Program as well as our support of digital literacy expansion in British Columbia with the United Way BC.
Internationally, we’ve also supported emergency funding for India in response to Covid-19, provided emergency relief for our partners in Haiti following the earthquake, and built homes in Kenya. We hear amazing stories of our overseas partners serving 600 sponsored grandparents and their communities, and our Global Affairs Canada funding project with HelpAge International is assisting 52,000 older people and people with special needs in seven refugee camps in Gambella, Ethiopia.
What do the holidays mean to you?
The holidays remind me that there is no such thing as “the number one”. It simply is a made up concept. Not one thing exists alone, in isolation. Anything and everything exists in relationship to the other. Christmas brings a magnifying glass to this truth, that I am who I am only with you, and it is only together that “I am”. So lets love one another, especially those we find hard to love.
Looking to the New Year, what’s next in your work to support seniors?
HelpAge Canada will continue to build on its programs in Canada and around the world and looks to take a leading role in the pan-Canadian community based seniors services sector. We will bring partners together to serve the most vulnerable and marginalized older people, and help build a world for all people to age with dignity.
What’s your favourite holiday memory?
Hmmm…tough one…..remembering how my Dad would climb on the roof and make sled tracks and scatter horse poop and then bring us up to show where Santa had landed. Or the time my family came to stay with me for Christmas in New Orleans when I had run away as a teenager to be a bluesman. Or that time the power went out on the 24th and our good friends made Christmas dinner by candlelight for 20 people on a coleman stove and the BBQ. And, always, driving home from Midnight Mass and listening to Al Maitland’s Christmas Eve reading of The Shepherd on CBC radio.
What’s the biggest misconception you wish would change about older people?
That people all have different levels of importance. The idea that some colours of people are better than other colours, some income levels make people more valuable, that some professions make people more special, or that some religions, political groups, tribes, nationalities, or creeds somehow elevate some above others is a perception that needs to change. Lastly, that age is determinant of one’s worth.