Chinese Canadian group launches Seniors in Cyberspace

Group activity at London’s Chinese Canadian National Council

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For those who could join, it was great. But the problem was, many people couldn’t join. They didn’t know how to access the programs using the Internet, and they didn’t have anybody to help.

Andy Ho
Chinese Canadian National Council, president

Hearts are full, smiles are big and the hall is positively buzzing with Mandarin, Cantonese and English conversation on Seniors’ Day at London’s Chinese Cultural Centre.

Twice monthly, dozens of seniors in their 70s, 80s and 90s, gather at the centre, where they share a meal and participate in group exercises and other activities organized by the Chinese Canadian National Council – London Chapter (CCNC).

The seniors are among the council’s most vibrant members, but also its most vulnerable. And for many, Seniors Day is their only opportunity to connect with familiar faces outside their homes.

So when everything came to a halt during the pandemic, CCNC volunteers quickly moved the organization’s most popular programs online, to give members remote access to the community.

“For those who could join, it was great. But the problem was, many people couldn’t join,” said president Andy Ho. “They didn’t know how to access the programs using the Internet, and they didn’t have anybody to help.

“They were alone and very isolated.”

Agency bringing in youth volunteers

To ensure its most vulnerable members are never left behind again, the agency has launched Empowering Seniors in Cyberspace, using federal pandemic-recovery funding allocated by United Way Elgin Middlesex.

The funding has allowed CCNC to hire a software programmer, purchase 20 computer tablets and develop a seniors’ technology training program that teen volunteers from area high schools will use to help elder members learn how to access and participate in programs remotely if needed.

“This project will make sure that if anything else ever happens to put people in a situation where they cannot leave their home, our seniors will be prepared.They will be able to stay connected,” said Ho.”And we know being connected is important to physical and mental wellness.”

Founded in 1980 by a group of Chinese Londoners to encourage full and equal participation in Canadian society, the CCNC is one of 26 groups that United Way Elgin Middlesex allocated to receive funding from the Government of Canada’s Community Services Recovery Fund to address needs that have emerged or increased since the start of COVID-19.

President Andy Ho outside building

“When we heard about the fund, we thought it was an opportunity to help our seniors improve their ability to communicate using modern technology,” said Ho. “We want to give them confidence. The world is moving ahead fast and we don’t want the seniors to be left behind.”

The volunteer-run charity has only two paid staff, both part-time, and focuses on social services and reducing barriers for Chinese Londoners. While CCNC serves children, families and individuals of all ages, this project is focused on senior citizens because they were isolated during the pandemic, said Ho.

Typically, senior programming draws about 50 people, twice a month to socialize and take part in the group activities that include Tai Chi, exercise, music appreciation club, community cooking, guest speakers, painting and crafts. Many also enjoy gardening vegetables at the CCNC’s garden centre out back, which donates fresh produce to the London Food Bank.

Volunteer drivers pick up people who don’t have transportation in the morning, and take them home after.

“Our seniors depend on us,” said Kun-Tou Pao, vice president. “We know some people get up at 5 a.m. those mornings, because they are so excited.”

Project will help seniors avoid scams

Some were widowed during the pandemic, Pao said.

“We are concerned for them. We want to make sure they are not alone and isolated in the future if they cannot leave their home,” he said.

Pao, vice president, CCNC

During the pandemic, volunteers set out to call the most senior members and even knock on their doors, taking safety measures, to ensure people were well and to tell them about the Zoom programs.

What they learned was that many older members either did not know how to use the necessary technology, or had limited access – in some cases because they or their adult children were concerned about senior scams.

That’s why the training program also includes information on how to use and navigate the Internet safely and prevent becoming a victim of cybercrime.

“By helping our seniors get confident with modern technology, we can expand our scope of service and achieve our goal to help Chinese Canadians settle, integrate and contribute to the local community,” said Pao. He said the organization plans to share the program with other groups that serve seniors.

“This is not just for Chinese Canadians. It can help others too,” he said.

Group activity at London’s Chinese Canadian National Council

See the full list of funded projects and for more information about the Community Services Recovery Fund.

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