Learning by working with HCoA

I have been fortunate to work for the Hamilton Council on Aging for the past four years. Before joining HCoA, I had some familiarity with the organization as the Board of Directors would conduct their meetings at my previous place of employment. At the time, I was not as aware of what HCoA actually did or of the reputations of the very accomplished group of academics and professionals who would gather in our meeting room every month. I never would have predicted that just a few short years later, I would have the privilege to work with and learn from such a talented—and modest—group of individuals, working with them towards the fundamental goal of improving “aging experiences in Hamilton.”  

Through my time at HCoA, I have played the role of a secretary, public speaker, event planner, writer, student, and webmaster, among others, in the various projects I have helped coordinate and administer. While I am obviously speaking very broadly—and those who know me will laugh at the thought of my doing all of these things and more—I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work in areas far outside my original skill-set and comfort zone. As a result, I have felt challenged to continue learning, develop new skills and become more informed and knowledgeable on a day by day basis.

One of the most interesting projects I’ve been part of is one of HCoA’s more recent undertakings: “Let’s Take a Walk.” Working with a highly expert team led by Margaret Denton, and including McMaster University Rehabilitation Sciences, the City of Hamilton and local trails associations, Let’s Take a Walk has been quite the undertaking. The project involves seniors’ engagement, accessibility audits, educational seminars, and the development of an age-friendly guide to walking trails in Hamilton. As the girl who is famously known for getting lost in her own backyard, this project has taught me about things like GIS data and satellite images for mapping. I have also been tasked with multiple public speaking engagements, something that I am slowly getting more comfortable with. Most importantly, though, my experiences on projects such as this has made me more knowledgeable about “age-friendly communities” and how small changes to things like the size of font on signs or even the dimensions on a washroom stall can make such a huge difference for people living in the community.

Despite HCoA’s small staff complement, I am surrounded by colleagues in a shared endeavour.. The Council is truly a collaborative organization. Every project that I have been privileged to work on has a huge team of hardworking and dedicated individuals behind it, represented by members of the community and enhanced by the wealth of knowledge and expertise that older adults so freely and  generously share on an ongoing basis.

The people that HCoA serves are the same ones who service the organization. As a “working board” our Board of Directors is very much part of our staff team. In addition, the countless volunteers that contribute time and energy to HCoA’s projects are primarily older adults. The wealth and knowledge gained by working with those who have lived and learned so much has to be one of the most enlightening and enriching experiences anyone could have.

HCoA has taught me many things, but most importantly, through the examples that are set before me, I have learned to trust in the abilities of others, and to appreciate the value and uniqueness of every persons’ experience. I have always cherished the older people in my life and continue to do so as I meet countless strong, warm, interesting and outstanding older adults through HCoA.

So thank you to HCoA and all the older adults in my life for remaining open to me and for reminding me to think without prejudice, work hard, and act with confidence.

Shelagh Kiely is Project Coordinator for the Hamilton Council on Aging