SENIORS IN FOCUS: Sidney’s SHOAL Centre marks 10 years of service to seniors

SHOAL has also spread its wings to other age groups in Sidney.

Bob Eveleigh holds a torch to some silver fittings. He has been carving

For the last 10 years, the SHOAL Centre in Sidney has been serving the needs of seniors in a variety of ways — and the organization is celebrating their anniversary. The Centre’s official anniversary was on March 10 and they held a party with more than 120 guests.

Anna Hudson, Activity and Rental Co-ordinator, has been with SHOAL (Sidney Healthy Options for Active Living) since it was taken on by Beacon Community Services in 2007. She says the Centre was operated by the Silver Threads Society and was known by a different name until March 10, 2005.

When BCS took over, Hudson said membership had dwindled to around 200 people, age 50-plus. In 10 years, she says membership has ballooned to more than 900. In one open house in 2014 alone, she continues, they signed up 190 new people.

“People know how valuable it is to take out a membership here. We’ve gone from a small seniors centre, to a large hub in the community that caters to adults of all ages.”

SHOAL has partnered with many other local groups, providing space for meetings or club activities, both on site and off.

Neil Christenson and Bob Eveleigh are two volunteers who have been with the SHOAL Centre from the beginning. In fact, both were around when it was known as Silver Threads.

“I came in ‘88,” says Christenson. “I was here when they tore the old building down and we went into portables behind the Mary Winspear Centre. Two years later, we had this building. We thought we had arrived in heaven.”

Christenson comes to SHOAL for the lapidary workshop — cutting and polishing stones. There’s much more to lapidary than just that, he says, adding he’s been at the hobby since 1965 when he lived in Red Deer, Alberta. To find in retirement a place to continue the hobby, he says, was outstanding.

“Most people just want to be able to keep on doing something creative,” he says.

Eveleigh also works in lapidary, but also spends time in the wood carving shop next door.

“We’ve got a real nice range of people in here,” he says. “Many of them come and go but we still have two guys over 90 and there’s a bunch over 80.”

In the last decade, there have been plenty of changes at the SHOAL Centre. Eveleigh, 77, says he’s seen different clubs come together and new activities introduced over the years. Larger organizations, in woodworking for example, often refer people to the SHOAL Centre, especially if people are looking to get into it for the first time.

“This Centre is a real going concern,” Eveleigh says.

Christenson says the Centre has a welcoming feel and that contributes to everyone’s enjoyment of the many activities offered there.

“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t come here Tuesday or Thursday mornings,” he says.

Eveleigh, who says he lives 30 minutes away from the SHOAL Centre, adds he comes all this way because he enjoys the people and his contributions.

“It’s a very good place to learn.”

Catering to people 50-plus, the SHOAL Centre offers space for community groups and activities and runs programs of their own.

Both physical and mental programs are on the list, and there are plenty of volunteer opportunities as well — from driving others to medical appointments and tax preparation, to peer counselling and work in the thrift shop.

SHOAL’s dining room, Tides, is open to the entire community.

SHOAL has also spread its wings to other age groups in Sidney. The Youth Employment Program, or YEP, provide youth with opportunities for training, work and volunteer experiences.

Hudson says one of the side benefits of having a strong organization like SHOAL, is its ability to support others.

For example, she says they played a role in reviving the White Cane Club for the visually impaired.

“We offer so many health and wellness workshops, lectures and more — and it’s all generally free for members,” she says.

Anybody can be a member, she says, and it costs $46 per year. The non-member drop-in fee is $3.25.

“This is a unique spot,” Hudson continues. “It’s a complement to other community centres and activities on the Saanich Peninsula.”

To learn more about the SHOAL Centre, visit beaconcs.ca/pages/shoal or drop by the Centre at 10030 Resthaven Drive in Sidney.