This summer at Willowdale Manor was unforgettable for the entire NLNY marketing & events team. It all started when Maria Speare, NLNY’s Operations Manager, came across the New Horizons Grant. Filled with excitement and driven by a desire to impart meaningful change, she and Sebastian Biasucci, NLNY’s Manager of Events decided to spend the grant on a summer workshop/event program at Willowdale Manor for the amazing seniors there! Then came the spectacular summer student team to help make Maria's and Sebastian’s dream a reality: Sonia Singh, Marketing Coordinator; Alexandra Singh, Event Coordinator; and Maria Ferrer, Event Coordinator.
After several weeks of planning, our first event, 'Boards games & Good Company’ finally came to fruition. Our vision was to create a series of intergenerational events all summer long where the seniors of Willowdale Manor could socialize and enjoy the company of youth volunteers. Unfortunately, according to Statistics Canada, about 30% of Canadian seniors are at risk of becoming socially isolated and depressed. NLNY wanted to help bridge that gap by encouraging seniors to come out of their bubbles so that they felt welcomed, included, and joyful. At our first event 'Board games & Good Company’, if you closed your eyes long enough, it felt like you were flying through the world, and experiencing various cultures in one single moment. We had several English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Persian, Russian, and French youth volunteer translators attending, which allowed for Willowdale Manor residents of all cultures and backgrounds to socialize and create connections! The entire auditorium room was lit with chatter that day! The boardgames allowed us to meet the seniors and foreshadowed the wonderful conversations and friendships to come.
The following week, NLNY hosted our second intergenerational event at Willowdale Manor, a ‘Musical Therapy Workshop’. The workshop consisted of a melodic performance by Thyra Andrews, a singer, and certified music therapist, followed by an interactive workshop with musical bells. Musical therapy is known to be beneficial for developing cognitive skills such as attention and memory, as well as managing anxiety and depression. As such, NLNY wanted this event to give seniors an outlet for mental stimulation, creativity, and socialization. This event allowed the youth volunteers to participate in the music therapy workshop alongside the Willowdale Manor residents, further establishing a bond between both parties!
The third event, ‘Physio & Storytelling’ was all about getting seniors, volunteers, and NLNY staff moving and energized while following the lead of the passionate physio, Surabhi Veitch! Surabhi taught the class some important movements to maintain mobility, function, and overall well-being. It was inspiring seeing some of the 90+ year old seniors keeping up with the young volunteers and giving them a run for their money! Following the wonderful physio class, seniors got together for the ‘tell’ portion of the event, where they shared interesting stories of their youth and favorite memories. We learned that amongst our midst we had a Soprano singer, a renowned Russian-English professor, a five-language multilingual, an engineer, and so many other interesting individuals. Hearing their stories was like reading the most intriguing and fascinating memoir, and we are so grateful to have met all of the seniors at Willowdale Manor and to have gotten a chance to listen to their life stories and lessons. We’d like to give a special thank you to Yonge Cafe & Bistro for catering all these events and ensuring we all have delicious snacks and a refreshing glass of lemonade to quench our thirst after chatting so much!
At the fourth intergenerational event, seniors, volunteers, and NLNY staff enjoyed a wonderful ‘Art Class’ morning! NLNY’s own Community Youth Worker, Alyssia, led the artistic talents of both the youth volunteers and seniors in attendance through sketching and painting, with many talented individuals exerting their talents at the event! One of the youth volunteers, Jefferson, created a beautiful and detailed sketch of Willowdale Manor resident, Vincent. Meanwhile, a Chinese Calligraphy painter showcased his art and provided residents and youth with a lesson! Following this event, both seniors and youth volunteers alike shared the art of their favourite memories, places, and people/things! It was truly a day to remember and unveil hidden talent. This event allowed the seniors to exhibit their creative abilities whilst conversing and further bonding with the youth volunteers present!
Our month of intergenerational events at Willowdale Manor concluded with one final occasion; “Live Music & Lunch”. After a wonderful summer of meeting and building relationships with the amazing seniors at Willowdale Manor, we wanted to celebrate all together with the seniors with one final affair. The concert began with a live performance from Marcus Schwan, who captivated the audience with renditions of "Hit the Road Jack", “Fly Me to the Moon”, “Sweet Caroline”, “Can't Help Falling in Love”, and more. The next performer, Sara Mar, dazzled the spectators with various Taylor Swift hits! The seniors then enjoyed a short but beautiful musical performances (violin and piano) from the adorable students of the Willowdale School of Music, whose talent and natural abilities shined in their performances. Finally, the concert wrapped up with two heartwarming performances by seniors from Willowdale Manor, including a classically trained soprano singer and a musically gifted couple. They brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience with their talent and heartfelt performance. Throughout the concert, the seniors enjoyed a delicious meal from Mezza Notte with the company of all the youth volunteers that have been bonding with the seniors throughout the past month!
It has been an amazing experience putting together all these events at Willowdale Manor, and we’re truly so sad to see them end. It’s been a phenomenal journey planning and organizing each event and seeing the way it has positively influenced the lives of the seniors in attendance. We remember how only 30 residents came out to the first event, thus being able to witness over 85 senior residents show up to the final event was especially rewarding and wonderful. Thank yo
u so much to our talented musical performers, all of the amazing staff and seniors at Willowdale Manor, to the kind and dedicated youth volunteers, and all NeighbourLink North York staff who helped make this dream a reality. Finally, thank you to the Canada Government for the New Horizons grant that gave everyone involved a chance to widen their horizons (pun intended!) at these truly memorable intergenerational events.
This being said, we are looking forward to planning more events in the fall!