NEAT — which stands for Neighbours Engaging in Activities Together — is coming to Central Saanich. (District of Saanich/Submitted).

Central Saanich hosts NEAT program to help seniors connect with each other

Health promotion program aims to reduce social isolation among seniors

A regional health promotion program that aims to strengthen social ties among seniors through physical activity has arrived in Central Saanich and is still taking applications.

NEAT — which stands for Neighbours Engaging in Activities Together — holds its first meeting at Central Saanich’s Cultural Centre Room A on Thursday. The program itself runs until Dec. 12 and Laura Van Dyk, NEAT coordinator, who also works as a recreation programmer for the District of Saanich, said the program is still taking applications.

“The program is really an opportunity for participants to connect with their neighbours or people within the community, and have an opportunity to create activities of their choice, in hopes of gaining a better awareness of what is available to them,” said Laura Van Dyk, NEAT coordinator, who also works as a recreation programmer for the District of Saanich.

A grant from Island Health funds the project, whose partners include the parks and recreation departments of Saanich, Victoria, Oak Bay and Sidney. “This will be second program that we are bringing to the [Peninsula],” she said. “The first one was over in Sidney.” It will also be the eighth and final edition of NEAT. Saanich, Oak Bay and Victoria have hosted editions of the program outside the Peninsula.

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Van Dyk said this program gives participants an opportunity to get started in programs of their choice in a supportive, relaxed environment. Apartment buildings or local meeting spaces where people already feel comfortable host the program, where participants first to get to know each other in a relaxed space with fun ice breakers and exercises. The program also introduces resources and activities in their neighbourhood and features recreation therapists, who will help participants deal with barriers to participation, self-management challenges and motivation.

“Participants will decide which activities they would like to try and best of all, they meet other people in their neighbourhood,” she said. These activities can be anything from art to sports and everything in between. Each of the following weeks include an activity of the groups’ choice.

While these activities have obvious health benefits, van Dyk said one of the big goals of this program is to help seniors improve their social connection.

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“Even if they aren’t physical fit or mobile, they still want to gather to maintain that connection with people, who are in a similar stage of life,” she said. Some of the people who had previously participated in the program are widowed, or live on their own, after their grown children had moved out, she added. “So they are potentially isolated, and we are trying to reach people before they become isolated or before they are on the cusp of needing additional health services.”

Nearly one in four seniors said they would like to participate more in social activities, according to a 2012 Statistics Canada report and the 2008/09 Canadian Community Health Survey also found one-fifth of seniors felt left out, isolated from others, or lacked companionship.

Interested applicants can contact her or 250-475-3219 or Laura.VanDyk@saanich.ca for more information.


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