Lifelong Learning Niagara: Age-Friendly Principles in Action

Over the past decade, the global movement toward age-friendly communities has demonstrated that quality of life is influenced as much by a person’s social environment as by their physical environment.

What started as a project led by a small department within Brock University, Lifelong Learning Niagara has grown to become a prominent organization providing learning programs and experiences for older adults living in the Niagara region. Managed by a board of retired seniors, the non-profit organization offers a few social and educational programs for members to enjoy, and provides twelve (12) annual public lectures on a broad range of topics by well-known speakers who are experts in their subject matter. These lectures are delivered at the Armenian Hall in St. Catharines during the spring and fall. The organization has been successful in attracting a few high-profile speakers, most recently the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. The combination of quality lecture topics and the delivery formats has been well received by our audiences. In a survey conducted during one of our lectures, we noted that the majority of our attendees (70%) were female and 30% were male. Of these attendees, most were over the age of 70.

The following statistical information is provided to demonstrate some of our successes to date:

  1. Audience Growth – By the end of our first year in 2015, the organization had provided its first series of six (6) lectures, averaging about 85 attendees for each session. By the Spring of 2017, the size of our audience had grown, averaging about 125 guests, with a peak attendance of 153 guests for one of the lectures.
  2. Increased Interest: For our first lecture series in the Fall of 2015, the organization had sold a total of 260 tickets (combination of full series and individual lectures tickets). By the Spring of 2017, a total of 483 tickets were sold for our six-week series. The interest in our variety and choice of educational programming continues to grow.
  3. Membership Growth: By the end of our first fiscal year in August 2015, the organization had signed up about 53 Members. Membership is available for a small annual fee and offers a variety of benefits. By June of 2017, our Membership had grown to more than 200 adults. New members are now joining the organization each month.
  4. Regional Engagement: While our audience is mostly from St. Catharines and Niagara-On-The-Lake, we currently have representation from basically all the municipalities of the Niagara region. Our organization strives to attract seniors from the twelve municipalities of Niagara.
  5. Volunteer Growth: In the beginning, most of our lecture and event volunteers were our founding board members. More recently, we have been able to recruit about a dozen new volunteers who assist with various program roles and functions.
  6. Testing Program Impact: In early 2016, Lifelong Learning Niagara had applied for and received a substantial Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to evaluate the feasibility of offering a variety of innovative educational programs that would appeal to seniors, particularly those who may be isolated due to distance, physical limitations or social and economic constraints. On-site programs were delivered to seniors living at four retirement centers in the Niagara region. The grant also enabled the organization to demonstrate its program offerings to the public. As a result of the added exposure and awareness, demand for our lecture series has increased substantially.
  7. Bilingual Programming: A French language lecture is being planned and organized for November 2017 for French speaking adults living primarily in cities of Port Colborne and Welland. If the program is well received, we plan to develop additional lectures for the French speaking community of Niagara.

Providing opportunities for lifelong learning in a format that encourages interaction between participants is an important factor of positive mental health and community awareness, as well as a measure of civic engagement. As an active member of the Age-Friendly Niagara Network, Lifelong Learning Niagara will endeavour to identify and support activities that meet social and educational needs of people in the Niagara region.

Gaby Arato
Lifelong Learning Niagara
garato@bell.net

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