Heather Treleaven with The Seniors Network. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Heather Treleaven with The Seniors Network. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

OCOP: Helping seniors is who she is

Heather Treleaven with The Seniors Network has a passion for seniors

The next in a series of profiles that appear in Our Community, Our People, a special publication by the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.

Heather Treleaven has always had a passion for helping seniors.

She grew up in a small town called Nakusp in the West Kootenays, where everybody looked after everybody else.

“I grew up helping haul wood for people who couldn’t get out anymore, helping haul hay for folks,” said Treleaven.

She learned about compassion from her father, who was involved with helping seniors and had this drive to help people.

Now as the coordinator of the local seniors network, Treleaven is doing what she loves.

But it’s really the seniors who drive the community initiatives, she said.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Katzie Seniors Network is one of nine seniors planning tables funded by the United Way of the Lower Mainland.

“We serve where the program gaps are. Then we look for solutions collectively, as a community, which is really fun,” explained Treleaven.

The network was started in 2008 after cuts to seniors home supports by Fraser Health caused the community to rally together. Treleaven took the job as coordinator in 2009 and is the only paid staff at the organization, which depends on more than 50 volunteers.

Treleaven has lived in Maple Ridge for 12 years, a city she considers a “really big, little town.”

What she enjoys most about her work is being able to help people in a way they think is helpful.

She enjoys taking the ideas of the thoughtful and passionate seniors and finding ways to put them into action, finding funds, bringing partners together and creating programs.

Making the community better for seniors makes it better for everyone, Treleaven said.

One project that Treleaven is particularly proud of is the Community Action Initiative, which brought together nine different organizations around the need for a seniors outreach worker in this community.

They were able to get a $100,000 grant for the year and a half pilot project headed by the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows-Katzie Community Services.

The outreach worker is a tremendous asset to the community, notes Treleaven, who says the program’s focus is on seniors with mild to moderate mental health issues and substance use challenges.

“She is able to go out to people’s homes and meet with them one-to-one. Folks who are struggling, folks who are newly homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless,” said Treleaven.

“So those really vulnerable folks.”

Another project that the network recently worked on is the Age Friendly Community Initiative, which was a year and a half in the making and is an ongoing project that identifies how age-friendly the cities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are, where to make improvements and what is working well.

During the year and a half, they came up with an action plan and both cities became officially age-friendly in June, 2016.

“It’s excellent to have an action plan in place with recommendations and priorities set by the community. Because now when funding opportunities present themselves, we can prove that the community wants this and we are ready to go,” explained Treleaven.

There is also the Intergenerational Garden that was built at the corner of Edge Street.

Before 2012, Treleaven kept hearing feedback about seniors wanting more intergenerational contact.

“A chance to work with younger generations and to bridge that gap,” said Treleaven.

When a grant opportunity presented itself through the New Horizons for Seniors Program, the Seniors Network worked closely with the City of Maple Ridge and the school district to build the garden.

“It’s just amazing to see seniors come out who now have downsized. They’re in apartments and they don’t have as much garden space as they used to, but still have that pasison for it. To see them come out and teaching young kids about it,” smiled Treleaven.

“Younger people starting to understand where their food comes from to really enjoy preparing it and eating it and chasing bugs around the garden,” she continued, adding that one of her favourite moments was a fellow in his 80s who came shuffling to the garden and said, ‘You know, I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, but I had to water my tomatoes.’

And that’s what it is about for Treleaven, giving somebody a reason to get out of bed in the morning and connect with other people.

“And if you are ever out in the garden trying to water your tomatoes, so many people come by and they want to talk and share their stories,” she said.

Neighbours will drop by with their plants and offer their advice and even people who don’t come in to volunteer in the garden will walk by and check on the growth of the plants.

Now the Seniors Network and other community groups are working on a bus coop. They are hoping to partner with Translink to have a couple of buses available for a variety of groups to use in the community since renting a bus for any of those outings is really cost-prohibitive.

What Treleaven loves most about her work is just listening to people and listening to their experiences and their desires for ways to make the community better.

“(Seniors) still have a lot to contribute. They are valuable, they have a wealth of knowledge and experience that we can learn a lot from them,” she said.

When Treleaven was a child, her father helped a senior couple after their house burned down.

“He brought the community together and helped them rebuild their house,” said Teleaven.

So, helping seniors is simply part of who she is.