Griffith – As they await a miracle which would provide funding for supportive housing for seniors in their tiny community, a committed group is continuing to provide support through transposition, foot care clinics and other needs to ensure those seniors can remain in the community they call home.
“We would love to build at least three apartments on the property – about 700 square feet,” Juliette LeGal, treasurer of the Greater Madawaska Senior Housing Corporation, said. “We just moved one of our seniors to Cobden who absolutely didn’t want to go but had to go. She lived in a remote area, couldn’t drive anymore and family wasn’t readily available. Friends were supportive, but it was sad. We could have taken care of her here.”
She is part of a group that was organized in the Griffith-Matawatchan areas of Greater Madawaska Township 13 years ago to pursue housing for seniors. Despite setback after setback, including a lack of support from all levels of government, the group continues to carry out its mandate of helping the elderly remain in their community. Now, as the possibility of having supportive housing seems more remote, they are continuing to help seniors stay in the community, but in their own homes. A bitter blow for the group was the loss of the municipal community centre which was recently demolished because of structural issues according to the municipality.
Griffith is one of the smaller communities in Renfrew County and one of the most remote. The need for supportive housing for seniors was recognized well over a decade ago when the committee was sanctioned by the municipal council and was later incorporated as a non-profit organization. Years were spent lobbying senior levels of government for funding to build housing for the elderly, but in the end, the group was told that kind of housing just didn’t work in rural Canada.
Fast forward to today and there is still no public housing for seniors, but the organization continues to exist, providing vital services to older folks – and hoping for a miracle.
“We knew there was a need for senior housing, something like the Fairfields model in Eganville, or regular apartments,” Ms. LeGal said. “It was meant for seniors who couldn’t maintain their own home any longer and didn’t want to go to the city.
“It didn’t happen and so we went back to the community and asked them, what do you want, what do you need?” she explained. “Three really important needs were identified: transportation, health care and home maintenance.”
Not only did the group feel let down by the provincial and federal governments, but in a way its own municipal government also abandoned them last winter when it decided to demolish the old Griffith Township municipal office along Highway 41 in Griffith.
“Until this past winter we had the old township office in Griffith where we operated a thrift store which was the major line of revenue for the organization,” Chair Rev. Steven Green, pastor at Hilltop Tabernacle Church in Griffith, said. “We had a full crew of volunteers from the area and people were very gracious with donations. That turned close to $10,000 a year.”
He said the township felt the need to demolish the building because it needed upgrades and felt it had served its purpose. Although the group offered to do the repairs, the township had liability concerns.
“So that was demolished this past winter and put us where we currently stand,” he said. “They gave us permission to run some yard sales in that same location.”
Ms. LeGal said the province came down with a mandate to review efficiencies in all buildings in the township, but when it came time to review the township building in Griffith there was no community consultation.
Locals were disappointed and said it felt “kind of like pulling the rug out from underneath your feet”.
“They (council) were the ones who instigated getting this whole group going back in the day,” Pastor Green added.
The group next applied for a grant to put an addition behind the Denbigh-Griffith Lions Hall, but it didn’t get very far. Just the preliminary design for a 2,000 square foot add-on was about $20,000 and then the cost of the specs was estimated at $85,000.
“It almost felt like there was some one there with a design that we’d like to see you gone,” he said.
After the township building was demolished, the group looked at different options.
“We have a piece of property that adjoins the township property,” he said. “We looked at moving the township building to our property but to raise it up and move it was prohibitively costly and would leave us with no revenue to help the community.”
The loss of the 1,300-square- foot building has left the association without a home base and has put future yard sales in jeopardy as they have no place to store the goods, sort them and get them ready for sales.
“Doing it outside is so much more work, and everything gets wet,” Ms. LeGal said. “This is the last summer. We have a storage tent and lots of tarps but….”
Looking For A Miracle
Now the Greater Madawaska Senior Housing Corporation is hoping for a bit of miracle to happen – like a big donor to come along and finance a building for seniors on the two-and-a-quarter acre piece of property it owns on Blueberry Lane beside Pinewood Restaurant.
But despite the setbacks and the feeling of abandonment by the township, the corporation is determined to continue helping seniors who have spent their entire lives in the area.
A yard sale was held in early July and there are two more sales this summer – one this Saturday and the other on August 27, the same day as the Griffith- Denbigh Lions Car Show.
The seniors’ group is made up of about 150 members. There are about 30 who volunteer for the yard sales.
The executive is hoping the association will be able to continue helping seniors through the generosity of donors.
“We have had more and more people, not only seniors, give us donations,” Ms. LeGal said. “There is one couple who has just committed to ongoing donations. I would like to thank them specifically – Howard and Donna Carr.
“We’d like to encourage private donations from enterprises and individuals and thank them very specifically for their donations. It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-time donation or ongoing donations,” she said. “We want to encourage people just to give.”
The group has charitable status and receipts are issued.
Several services are provided by the group to low-income seniors that allows them to continue to live in their own homes and remain in the community they have grown to love.
“We have a number of folks that we’re either sending someone to help cut their grass, plow their snow, move their firewood, do light maintenance around their properties and transportation to doctors’ appointments, north and south (Ottawa or Kingston),” Pastor Green said.
Drivers are also flexible, allowing the seniors to shop at a grocery store while in town. There is compensation for fuel costs for the drivers.
The group also looks out for the elderly. Ms. LeGal recalls visiting one elderly person whose cooking appliance was in poor condition, so the board decided to buy a new stove.
“It’s things like that … helping seniors when they are really in need,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just a transportation need, not the money part. Or helping with filling out government forms which can be a huge challenge for a senior, especially living in a rural area.”
One of the more popular programs is the Footcare program. Two nurses come from Ottawa every six weeks and use the Griffith Denbigh Lions Hall. Most clients have some serious issues that require this service and having the nurses come to Griffith often makes the difference in some people getting this service or not.
“We have a number of seniors who don’t drive, or their spouse passed away and they were the driver,” Pastor Green said. “This keeps them in the community, keeps them with the people they already know. It just provides that little bit of support they need.”
When the housing survey was done several years ago, it was very clear it was just Griffith and Matawatchan residents who expressed interest. There was no response from the Calabogie section of the municipality.
“We live very closely with Denbigh and Vennacher and our services are offered only in Griffith, Matawatchan, Denbigh and Vennacher … not that we wouldn’t look if there was interest somewhere else. We’d look at it,” Pastor Green said.
He said there is enough money in the treasury to continue for a couple of years, but he is also cognizant of the fact more special events are needed to fund the programs. At the same time, volunteer fatigue is setting in.
Another challenge the group faces is name recognition.
“We still run into seniors that we know in the community are in a position of need and they don’t present, they don’t talk to us,” Ms. LeGal said. “We almost have to chase them. An element of that is independence and personal pride. They don’t want to let it be known they are in a bad spot. It’s not that we would publish any of that, so they’re slow to come forward.
“We have people who stop in to check on people,” she added. “Just that public awareness that we’re here and that people can contribute with a tax receipt available for them. Some of the businesses in the area have been good to us, but we don’t have a lot of businesses.”
Volunteers are vital to the success of the program. Ms. LeGal said they just can’t send any volunteer to visit seniors.
“There has to be some kind of experience,” she said. “The board members that could train other people with that are just too busy. We have a lot of things on our plate.”
As Pastor Green notes, it tends to be that the people who sit on their board are also involved in other community groups.
The Greater Madawaska Housing Corporation is run by a board of seven with room for two more. Other members besides Pastor Green and Ms. Le Gal are Debbie Liciri, secretary; Michele Benson, footcare clinic; Al Kitching, Gail Holtzhauer, Nancy Reid and Theresa Pierce, directors at large.