An open door for Calgary seniors
by Joyce Rempel
After retirement, many seniors face isolation. For those seeking a place to belong and a sense of purpose, the Open Door Senior’s Fellowship offers just that. Situated in the downtown core, this volunteer-run group supports and engages older adults in a safe, welcoming space designed for connection, conversation, and fun.
Located in the lower level of historic First Baptist Church (1311 4 Street SW), they are open Monday to Friday, 9:30 am to 3:30 pm (except statutory holidays). This wheelchair accessible drop-in activity centre for seniors aged 55+ is a hub of activity in the Beltline district of Calgary. The coffee pot is always on and there is always a puzzle on the go!
With a warm, home-like atmosphere, the Open Door is a place where members feel welcome, make new friends, learn new skills, engage in activities to challenge the brain and the body as well as luncheons and trips to Stage West, Rosebud Theatre, and other attractions. Ongoing activities include: Bridge, Euchre, Mah-jong, line dancing, chair yoga, ping pong, memory class, book club, art class, music class, classic movies, foot care, Fun Spanish, a stitching club and tech tutoring. The group also has access to two gymnasiums, a recreation hall, ping pong tables, shuffleboard, pool table, exercise equipment, a TV for Wii games, a music and video room, computer room, and a lending library. Current president, Bill Halliwell smiles, “We’re investigating the possibility of doing Pickle Ball. We hear it’s all the rage down south with the snowbirds!”
From its beginnings in 1978, Open Door has grown into a non-profit organization of 160+ members. About one-third attend First Baptist but the majority are from the community. It is convenient access: walking distance for seniors in the downtown core, situated on the main #3 bus line, with easy access to the LRT. If you prefer to drive, free parking is available in the adjacent church lot. An elevator provides access for anyone with mobility issues.
A monthly “Soup and Bun” luncheon draws a large group. February’s “Beat the Winter Blues” sported island décor, tropical costumes and prizes. When asked why they come to the Open Door, several attendees said it was the “warm, welcoming atmosphere.” Mary said, “the friendship and love.” Another said it was the “calm.” Donna and Clint have been coming for ten years, and they agree, “It’s the place we gather with friends.”
Open Door is run by volunteers. President, Bill Halliwell; Treasurer, Art Porter; Secretary, Joanna Shea. Pat Halliwell coordinates a Treasure Chest (Rummage and Bake Sale) to help support the Fellowship. They also employ an office coordinator, Carol Airey, who is a warm and welcoming presence during open hours.
Halliwell affirms the Open Door is a good place to meet people. “It’s a comfort zone, a place you trust and like to be. Volunteers are vetted; it’s a safe space. There are many helpful things we offer to seniors who might otherwise be too timid to try.” Open Door has hired students on government grants to help seniors, one-on-one, to learn how to use their computers, iPads, and smart phones. “They might not ask a friend, but they can ask a student all their questions,” Bill says.
Open Door Seniors connects with various agencies to help deliver programs. First Baptist Church provides the facility, which keeps down the cost of membership. ACAD students are hired via grants to help tutor members on tech challenges and writing legacy stories for their families. Open Door is listed in the Kerby News and Coffee News; “Of course, many members also personally invite neighbours to come,” Bill says, “but we’d love to add a marketing person to contact downtown building managers for help in connecting with seniors living in high rises who might not know about the services we provide.”
Through Propellus, the Volunteer Centre of Calgary, Halliwell says, “We’ve connected with those who help serve meals and clean up.” He is grateful for their current caterer, who provides good variety and taste at a reasonable cost, respecting seniors’ ability to pay. The luncheons currently cost $8 for members and $13 for guests.
Annual membership fees for Open Door Seniors are very reasonable at only $20/year, plus drop-in fees of $2/activity or $4/day. Other events and day trips are priced individually. If you’d like to volunteer or become a member, check www.facebook.com/opendoorseniors or call Carol at 403-269-7900.