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Sheri McLeod: senior in training

After nearly 20 years with the NDG Senior Citizens Council, Sheri McLeod has come to the conclusion that retirees today increasingly are viewed through a “wider lens,” instead of on the basis of an “illness” model that dwells mostly on vulnerability.

“There’s a greater appreciation of later life as an extension of one’s entire life experience, and that’s slowly seeping into people’s consciousness,” says McLeod, who has been the council’s executive director for the past decade.

“Older people in general are being provided with more options in everything from accommodations to vacation packages, lifestyle magazines and leisure opportunities that I think 20 or 25 years ago people would not have thought about.

“Also what we’re seeing is the beginning of awareness of adapting the workplace to the needs of the older employee,” McLeod adds. “Something that’s been shown in a number of studies is that some people would quite willingly return to part-time work if they had the opportunity, because people’s vitality exists for a much longer period of time now; I think that’s starting to change things. It’s no longer about being 65 years old, so here’s the gold watch, it’s over. It’s more where do you see yourself in your life?”

Aging is “a journey everyone is on,” says Sheri McLeod Photo: Martin C. Barry

Declining health and the eventual loss of a spouse or close friends are inevitable, and for seniors who live alone, social isolation can lead to depression. However, for transportation to doctor’s appointments, help with income taxes, hot meals, or just much-needed companionship, the NDG Senior Citizens Council continues to meet the needs of about 1,100 seniors in Montreal West and Notre Dame de Grâce.

This year marks the council’s 35th anniversary. While its services have been a mainstay of Montreal’s west end community for decades, it now also provides new programs, such as a grief support group for people who are having difficulty adapting to life’s changes. Community lunches and social interaction facilitated by the council also help seniors make friends and maintain a social network.

McLeod, 45, describes herself as a “pre-senior” or a “senior in training.” She joined the NDG Senior Citizens Council 19 years ago as a volunteer coordinator, before graduating from McGill University’s School of Social Work and taking on a heavy load of the council’s case work. The council operates on a budget of about $330,000 per year, which comes from grants from various sources. The council’s offices were until recent years located on Terrebonne in NDG. They are now in the Montreal West United Church.

Since two-thirds of the NDG Senior Citizens Council’s funding comes from Centraide as well as from the government, there are some strings attached, such as an increasing pressure to work more closely with other groups, with whom the council is sometimes encouraged to sign agreements. “It’s a big machine and we’re not,” says McLeod, adding that her group tries to remain independent. “We try to have a certain amount of autonomy, while still respecting that a lot can be gained for the general population through certain types of involvement.”

While there is a tendency among people to view advancing age with a degree of dread, McLeod says, “I think everybody who works here is ironically a lot less afraid of being old than other people. You would think it would be the opposite, because we have all seen so many times how incredibly resilient and strong people are.

“Often people fear what they see as unknown, and for us it’s not really. Collectively it’s a journey everyone is on and so we’ve seen thousands of examples of people who’ve overcome so much. And regardless of what you get handed as you move through your own aging, there are a lot of things you can do and put in place to optimize your own experience.”



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