Significantly Seniors

By Glynis M. Belec in Community, People, Places, Events, & History

Little did Helen Edwards know when she first started working in the laundry department at a long term care facility, eighteen years later she would eventually end up running a unique community program for seniors.

“It was during my work in long term care I discovered how much I enjoyed spending time with seniors,” Helen says, reflecting on how she became so involved. “I came to realize they were my passion.”

She found true satisfaction working with older people and enjoyed discovering the impact she could have on the lives of the residents.

Helen quickly moved up the ladder to Assistant Administrator at the facility where she worked in Mount Forest, but when the opportunity to apply for the position of Seniors’ Health Services Coordinator for the Townships of Mapleton and Wellington North along with the Town of Minto came up, she jumped at it. She would miss her residents at the long term care facility but this new position seemed almost too good to be true.

But it was true. In 2008, Helen Edwards was hired on as the first Seniors’ Health Services Coordinator –and she hasn’t looked back.

The Seniors’ Centre for Excellence (SCE) program exists because someone saw a need and had an idea.

“A group of area residents, including former Mapleton mayor, John Green, responded to a request for proposals from the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network,” Helen says. “It was recognized there was a lack of services to support rural seniors and that additional investments were needed for those in our area.”

It didn’t take long before some community minded people stepped up to the plate and a Seniors’ Advisory Group was formed. They put their collective heads together and came up with some unique and attractive ideas to help local seniors find significance, purpose and opportunities to learn.

Helen is accountable to Township of Mapleton CAO, Brad McRoberts but there are a lot of others involved in making the Seniors’ Centre for Excellence be just that – an excellent place for seniors to come together, keep occupied, share a meal, stay in shape and spend quality time with their peers.

“The program has an agreement with the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network [WWLHIN] that provides the funding and sets out performance targets in order to maintain the funding,” Helen says.

The program is facilitated through the Township of Mapleton which offers back office support. This enables Helen and Hayley Fletcher, her assistant, to spend more time hands on, providing clients with the many services offered through the program. The support is great from staff and council from the Town of Minto and Wellington North as well.

The present Seniors’ Advisory Group* meets four times a year to discuss and plan for potential programs and to assess the impact each are having on the senior population in the three communities. Helen appreciates the group’s dedication and input into helping create programs enabling seniors to remain in their homes for longer periods of time.

“They are very committed to supporting the program and ensuring that it continues to flourish.”

Among the many services the SCE offers is system navigation. This involves ensuring seniors receive help finding out how to connect with necessary services in the community. SCE has a monthly calendar filled with activities and program details. Their goal is to make it available to every senior, ensuring those interested are aware of not only the various programs offered through SCE, but those offered by other agencies and the local Family Health Teams as well.

Helen speaks with unwavering enthusiasm as she explains the many opportunities and choices seniors have to get involved and get out in the community. There are the organized year round walking groups and exercise programs held in different communities. Fran Dawson, 78, bubbles with energy and encouraging words for her ‘students.’ Fran leads exercise classes every Tuesday and Thursday in Palmerston at the CNRA building.

“The Lion’s Club kindly donated the use of their building to us,” Fran says. “Exercise classes are free, although I have a donation jar if people want to toss in a little.”

Once donations hit $100 Fran gratefully gives the money to the Lion’s Club. She feels it is a good way to give back. Fran, a long-time certified trainer, finds great satisfaction leading her twice weekly classes

“I think I get more out of it than the others,” she says. “The rewards come back to me every time I see people enjoying themselves.”

Congregate dining times happen on a set day for each town, and run from 12:00 pm-2:00 pm.

“We have caterer, Donna Gingrich, on board who provides superb home cooked meals for our dining programs,” Helen says. “The cost is $10 and you enjoy a wonderful meal complete with dessert and a bottomless cup of coffee or tea.”

Time spent at the Congregate Dining program allows seniors to not only feast on a great meal, but it’s an appreciated occasion to socialize or to find out about other happenings in the community. Following the meal there is an opportunity to listen to selected speakers who are experts in their field.

Intriguing art programs led by Donna Hirtle from the Studio Factor in Drayton attract the creative senior.  Friendship circles, where seniors gather to share coffee and conversation, are held in different places throughout the communities.

The calendar is full and seniors have much to choose from every week.

“We also offer a Good Food Box program and partner with other agencies to bring information to rural seniors on a variety of topics,” Helen says.

John Keunen, 77, who has been volunteering with the Good Food Box Program for over two and a half years loves the opportunity he has to serve others as a volunteer driver. He faithfully delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to other seniors and to a local church that hosts programs for immigrants who want to learn about good nutrition.

“I just enjoy doing it and helping others in the process. I also enjoy the chance to fellowship with others,” Keunen says.

Brokered homemaking is another service offered for seniors in Wellington North, and Centre Wellington. For a nominal fee, homemakers are contracted to provide a wide range of services that include, but are not limited to vacuuming, laundry, meal preparation, pet care, grocery shopping, seasonal decoration and home maintenance.

Helen likes how the three rural municipalities work together and recognize the importance of seniors and the significant role they play in the health of a community.

“It’s unique,” she says as she talks about the positive response to SCE in Mapleton, Minto and Wellington County.

“We sometimes forget the significant economic benefits that they [seniors] bring to a community, too.”

Hayley Fletcher joined the SCE team two years ago and is already an integral cog in the wheel. She and Helen work well together organizing and planning. Hayley appreciates the interaction with her senior friends and feels she learns a lot on the job.

“As a person in my 20’s I enjoy working so closely with seniors,” Hayley says. “It has made me realize how important seniors are to the health of our communities.”

Seniors’ Centre for Excellence clients live independently in their community and most recognize their role in managing their own health. Helen is impressed with how many regularly attend the programs offered or volunteer to help in so many ways. But she also emphasizes the importance of ‘spreading the word.’

“We are always pleased to see a new face in the crowd and make an effort to introduce ourselves and let newcomers know about our programs.”

SCE can be a real blessing to those who often feel lonely and far away from both essential and recreational services.

“Through our homemaking program and referrals from community partners we meet [more] isolated clients and connect them to other agencies for additional supports if necessary, as well as encouraging them to participate in our programs,” Helen says.

The more she shares about her involvement in SCE the more it becomes obvious that Helen Edwards is passionate about her job.

“I am committed to fighting ageism and recognizing seniors for all of the hard work they do to keep our communities strong and vibrant.”

T&J Studios in Palmerston in conjunction with Helen, Hayley and some keen seniors, prepared an inspiring video to help mark the 32nd anniversary of Seniors’ Month [June] in Ontario.

Seniors Making a Difference, showcases senior citizens across Mapleton, Minto, and Wellington North who are making a difference in their communities. The video can be found on the website:

The Seniors’ Centre for Excellence celebrates and respects seniors and is constantly finding ways to make life more fulfilling for the older population. Its very existence speaks volumes to seniors about their worth and is good for the community at large as they see them participate, contributing and giving back in so many ways.

For more information about the Seniors’ Centre for Excellence or any of their programs, check out the advertisement in Rural Route or contact the SCE office at 519-638-1000 or 1-866-446-4546 or send an email to Information is also available on the Township of Mapleton website at




*Present Seniors’ Advisory Group – Helen Edwards, the Mapleton CAO/Clerk, Shirley Borges – Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team rep, Deborah Whale – Chairperson and Minto Rep, Ian Turner & Cathy Harrington –Mapleton Reps, Anne Marie Faulkner –Minto Rep, Mary Faye Burns – Minto Rep and Faye Craig –North Wellington Rep,