by Rachael Lesosky
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice
New Denver’s Knox Hall was filled with laughter and colour on Nov. 8 when residents from the Pavilion Care Centre paired up with the Grade 2-3 class from Lucerne Elementary Secondary School for an arts and crafts day. The event was thanks to the Bluebirds, a volunteer group of women who plan activities and visit Pavilion residents.
“Pairing young and old is perfect,” said Linda Norman, one of the Bluebirds’ founders. “The little kids, they haven’t formed any judgments. We have a lot of fun.”
It all started with two bluebirds in a bush.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Norman and the group’s other founder Rosalie Bird were at the Pavilion visiting a friend of theirs.
“We saw that the other residents weren’t getting many visitors, and it was pretty tough on them. They get lonely,” Norman said.
While outside afterwards, the pair saw two birds in a bush. It clicked at that moment.
“Bluebirds,” said Norman. “I said to Rosalie, ‘Let’s make a little group of bluebirds and go and visit the people at the Pavilion.’”
At the time, the Pavilion didn’t have an activities director.
To help the group take off, Bird applied for a Vancouver Foundation grant through the Osprey Foundation. With the funds, the Bluebirds bought paint, paper, and other art supplies. They began making art with the Pavilion residents on Wednesdays. Now they do all sorts of activities.
“Rosalie and I discuss just about everything before we take it to the Pavilion,” Norman said. “We’ll do all of the activities and art projects at home first, because that way we’ll know if it doesn’t work.”
On Thursdays, they read. When the weather is nice, they go for walks around New Denver’s Orchard neighbourhood, or stop by the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre.
“The people of the Orchard recognize us on our walks, so they’re always really friendly and come and say hi,” said Norman. “Last year, we all saw a bear, and they were just thrilled.”
Sometimes they go for ice cream, or attend concerts in the park. New Denver’s Hospital Auxiliary facilitates music by Fiddle Dee Dee for the residents to enjoy, too.
The Bluebirds began to soar when they received a second grant from the Columbia Basin Trust, through Slocan Solutions Society.
The Pavilion is located within the Slocan Community Health Centre. It is a care facility for those who require 24-7 complex care. Some residents do not have family members nearby, which can be hard on them. The Bluebirds not only organize activities with residents, but they also visit with them one-on-one as they are able to on a volunteer basis.
“They just want somebody to chat to, to reminisce a bit,” said Norman. “It also gives the long-term care aides a break, too.”
The Pavilion recently hired an activities director, Carla Card – just in time, as the Bluebirds’ funding was running out. The Bluebirds still do their activities, but now together with Card.
“It just fit right into the whole thing,” said Norman.
Card also works with the Bluebirds to facilitate crafts days with Lucerne students. She plays pool noodle hockey and other games with the residents to promote mobility. She has even gotten them blowing bubbles.
“They love it! It’s so fun,” Norman said. “It’s good for them too because they’re getting physical activity from trying to bat the bubbles.”
New Denver’s Donation Store has also been supportive. “They donate to us, stuff like markers and pencil crayons,” said Norman. “Rosalie got a really lovely red track suit for one of the residents.”
Though fun and fulfilling, Norman said the task isn’t for everyone. “You lose people. You establish these relationships and then you come in one day and they’re up on the memory wall. That’s hard.”
Since the Bluebirds are volunteers, it can be difficult to make the time to visit the Pavilion. To remediate this, they are setting up a buddy system, pairing up a Bluebird with a resident for drop-in visits.
When Norman was asked what her favourite event has been, she said there have been too many.
“We have a lot of laughs. Because you make little mistakes with the crafts, but the mistakes are when you really get to laugh.”
The Bluebirds don’t have plans to stop flying any time soon.