Miya Narushima is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Brock University, St. Catharines in Ontario, Canada. She was trained in Adult Education and Community Development at the Ontario Institute Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Her research interests have always centered around the reciprocal interaction between persons and their environments. She is especially interested in the impact of older adults’ civic and social participation in the form of various activities (e.g., volunteering, lifelong learning and social activism) on their later life development and well-being as well as on their communities and societies. She is an avid qualitative researcher. Her teaching areas include health promotion, qualitative research and social gerontology.
“Sowing the seeds of change”: Lessons on building volunteerism from the age-friendly Niagara network
I’m an educator, gerontologist and advocate committed to promoting the health, happiness, and quality of life of older people. I teach courses in the Department of Health Sciences at Brock University and am the Interim Graduate Program Director for Brock’s Master of Applied Gerontology Program. My primary program of research is located at the intersection of health, aging and place. As a social gerontologist and qualitative health researcher, my work explores aging from a critical perspective to challenge assumptions about aging and disability, re-imagine practices and policies in community and care settings, and develop new ways of knowing that prioritize the lived experience of older adults. I spent a lot a time in school including receiving a PhD in Public Health from the University of Toronto but I’m pretty sure most of what I know that is important I learned from my granny – “Brownie”.
I am currently enrolled in the Master of Applied Health Sciences at Brock University with a focus on Community Health. I am a research assistant working under the supervision of Dr. Miya Narushima and Dr. Pauli Gardner. I am very interested in health promotion, aging, and community health.
Hi, my name is Mei (pronounced like the month)!
I am so grateful to be a part of the Brock University team for the Age-Friendly Niagara Network project.
I am very invested and interested in learning and working towards sustainable health strategies, health prevention, and health promotion that is age friendly. I will be attending Brock University in September 2021 for my Community Health Masters. My vocation goals are to work in a community development, or health promotion related field, and later work towards becoming a health professor at a university. Throughout my life I hope to become an agent of change and find a sense of belonging in the community and make a positive and meaningful connection with families, communities, and individuals. My other interests include running, exploring the outdoors, cooking, eating nachos, petting dogs, and playing guitar.
My name is Majuriha Gnanendran. I am a 4th year Public Health honours Co-op student at Brock University. I am also pursuing a minor in Environmental Sustainability. My goal is to progress onto my post-secondary studies, after my undergraduate degree, with a Master’s degree in a program related to Public Health and/or Gerontology. Public Health and Environmental Sustainability are important to me as they represent my morals and values. In my future, I would like to pursue a career in the Health Promotion field that incorporates aspects of the environment as well. The aging population is also of interest to me as this population has a lot to offer to their communities. Using my knowledge of Public Health and Environmental Sustainability I would like to aid in the development of healthier communities that would be beneficial for all.
Miya Narushima, Brock University, Canada
Pauli Gardner, Brock University, Canada
Jaclyn Ryder, Brock University, Canada
Mei Low, Brock University, Canada
Majuriha Gnanendran, Brock University, Canada
In this symposium, we will present the evolution and innovation of the Age-Friendly Niagara Network (AFNN) and the outcomes of our research study on civic engagement with age-friendly volunteers in the Niagara Region, Canada. The project was conducted in partnership between the AFNN and Brock University.
The Niagara Region in Ontario is one of the most rapidly greying areas in Canada. Currently one in five Niagara residents is 65 years and older, and this will double by 2031. The region was one of the earliest Canadian jurisdictions to join the WHO’s Global Age-Friendly Cities and Communities movement in 2008. The AFNN was formed in 2013 to plan and oversee regional activities and networking. In 2015, the AFNN launched its Niagara Aging Strategy and Action Plan to create “a community for all ages” and by 2019, 10 out of the 12 regional municipalities had formed their own local seniors/age-friendly/wellness advisory committees (the last two are in the process of forming). Over the last decade, the AFNN – networking with various organizations and people — has expanded its grassroots volunteer-driven movement to become a vital civil society organization, with 450 citizens on its list-serve.
Currently however, like many other age-friendly communities entering its 2nd decade, the AFNN is facing new challenges, with the sustainability of the organization and the recruitment and maintenance of volunteers priority issues. Like many AF initiatives, AFNN has relied on volunteers, most of who are retirees, as the driving force behind their activities. Adding to existing challenges related to volunteers, Covid-19 has created extra difficulties as some local advisory committees have successfully maintained their volunteers via online meetings, others are dealing with volunteer turnover and a lack of access to the internet. Although encouraging older adults’ active civic engagement is a goal of the WHO’s Global Age-Friendly Cities and Community movement, in reality, difficulties in sustaining older volunteers can threaten age-friendly initiatives in some communities.
In this context and with these concerns, we conducted an exploratory qualitative study to identify effective strategies to sustain current volunteers and motivate others to join. Key-informant interviews and 12 focus groups with local municipal advisory committee members and older volunteers were conducted via Zoom. In this symposium, we will showcase: the effective Age-Friendly Niagara Network Model; the findings of our study for sustaining local volunteer capacities; and our varied perspectives on the broader outcomes of this inter-generational research project.
Presenter #1, Jaclyn Ryder, Mei Low, & Majuriha Gnanendran
The Evolution of the Age Friendly Niagara Network
In this section, we will present the evolution of the Age-Friendly Niagara Network (AFNN), including its beginning and milestone achievements over the last decade. Through our interviews with key informants – many of whom have been involved in the AFNN since its inception, we learned about the ingredients that contribute to the success of the networking model. In particular, we will focus on how a strong ‘enabling’ style of leadership, vision, and the unwavering determination of some older volunteers – i.e., “community champions” act as ‘gardeners’ planting seeds for change in each community. We will also discuss some of the growing pains that their movement is now facing as they enter the 2nd decade of the Age-Friendly movement and in particular, their sustainability as a volunteer-driven organization in a large and diverse geographic area consisting of diverse municipalities with strong local identities. We end the presentation with strategies they are working on to address their concerns including re-structuring their organization to strengthen their age-friendly network to mobilize more resources across the Region. The presentation will include short video clips of interviews with the trailblazers of this movement, and their visions and hopes for the future of the movement.
Presenter #2, Miya Narushima and Pauli Gardner
Navigating the political maze: The civic engagement of local age-friendly advisory committees
We will present aspects of our findings of our study with older adult volunteers of the AFNN, focusing on the nature and role of their volunteering in local communities. Since 2008, AFNN has successfully expanded its grassroots movement to forward its goal to introduce an “age-friendly community” lens across the Niagara Region. By 2021, 11 out of 12 municipalities of the Niagara Region have established their local age-friendly or senor or wellness advisory committee or working group, and the 12th is in progress. Members of these committees are citizen volunteers who need to be appointed by city or town councils. This creates a unique nature and style of civic engagement among these advisory committee volunteers. While they are non-partisan, they are politically-minded, advocating for strategies and policies to make their communities better places for older adults and others. At the same time, they need to work collaboratively with municipal councils, to make sure their recommendations are heard. Our focus groups with volunteers in 12 communities suggested that age-friendly volunteers are located in a critical and complex position – between bottom-up and a top-down approaches. Participants of the study shared key suggestions that help them navigate this contested field.
Presenter #3, Pauli Gardner & Miya Narushima
Imagining the future of AF volunteerism: Perspectives of current older adult volunteers
This presentation is to highlight the key findings of our study with older adult volunteers of the AFNN, with special focus on the sustainability of volunteers for the age-friendly movement. Although the Niagara region has been one of leaders of the WHO’s Global Age-Friendly Communities movement in Canada since 2008, as we move into the 2nd decade of the age-friendly movement, the AFNN faces new challenges. As most of the volunteers are older adults and themselves getting in their older years, the sustainability of volunteers has become a priority issue. In this presentation we share findings of our qualitative study with current older adult volunteers including common motivations, perceived benefits and challenges, and suggestions to help sustain their current efforts (e.g., raising their community profile, exploring new communication tools to reaching out more people, expanding partnerships, innovative recruitment strategies, targeting more diverse groups). We will also discuss the diversity among local communities in terms of needs and resources. We hope the findings of our study will help our audience ponder the future of volunteerism – the backbone for creating an enabling and inclusive age-friendly Niagara for communities of all ages.
Presenter #4, Pauli Gardner, Miya Narushima, Jaclyn Ryder, Mei Low, & Majuriha Gnanendran
“How is this going to work?” Facing the challenges of conducting qualitative research with older adults during a global pandemic
Covid-19 created many challenges and generated many questions among gerontological researchers. As qualitative researchers WE are the research instrument and our methodological “superpowers” come from in-person engagement with our participants where we create a trusting space to share experiences, thoughts and feelings, listen deeply for what is said and also what is not said, and where we observe environments and bodies to gain subtle but important data required for interpretation. How does THIS work in an online world? We also train and mentor students relying on time in classrooms and in-person research meetings to help them gain key knowledge, skill and confidence for their own research. How does THIS happen in an online world?
In this presentation we – students and faculty – share what did happen and what we learned along the way. In particular we will focus on how we navigated the numerous challenges presented to us to develop an innovative model for qualitative research and training that not only allowed us to complete the study but to have fun and all learn some new things in the process.