Spanish-speaking seniors’ group faces funding crisis

immigrants tnRelated video: Club Casa de los Abuelos. Club Casa de los Abuelos – meaning the grandparents’ house – is a Centretown group working to end senior isolation within the community. 

The group of roughly 85 members celebrates its 12th anniversary this month, but unfortunately it will not be getting much of an anniversary gift this year. 

The group will lose its only source of funding, which was a one-year grant from the Senior Secretariat program which expires at the end of March.

“Senior isolation is a national crisis and it is the responsibility of everyone. We have to work together and address this major issue,” says Ana Maria Cruz-Valderrama, executive director of Club Casa de los Abuelos and a Seniors Roundtable volunteer.

In the past, the group has survived on various one-year grants at a time – which means every year they are once again faced with the long process of applying for new grants.  

The founder of Club Casa de los Abuelos, Erenia Hernández-Oliver, says there is just enough funding for the group to survive the next 10 months based on the $15 per person membership fee and all of their years of savings. After that, she says the future of the group is unknown. 

The group provides the Spanish speaking senior community with a place to gather and socialize with one another in their own language. 

They carry out various activities, many of which are artistically oriented and organized by the seniors themselves such as painting, knitting and writing. 

“We need help,” says Hernández-Oliver. 

“We need co-operation. We’re not asking for salaries – we’re all volunteers, but we need money for the rent,” she says. 

The group is welcoming the idea of a pilot project with an organization looking to fund and support the group. Its main concern is the monthly $400 payment which goes towards renting the Bronson Centre.

The loss would hurt the senior community, as the centre provides a niche service, according to Cruz-Valderrama.

“I’m very concerned about seniors in general, but of course seniors in my community who cannot speak the language are of high priority to me,” she says.

“This means they live, to a certain extent, a very isolated life.” 

Cruz-Valderrama says this is an issue among elderly immigrants in particular. 

Many senior immigrants are brought by their children to care for the grandchildren, but once they have grown up she says they are often forgotten.

University of Ottawa professor, Luisa Veronis, agrees the most vulnerable are non-English speaking immigrants who have been brought to Canada by their families because they do not have the same social networks. 

“The work they’re doing is absolutely amazing – and it’s even more amazing considering that it’s a volunteer organization and they’re not being paid,” she says.

Veronis says the club does more than provide group opportunities to seniors who lack the financial means to do the activities themselves. 

It also allows them to become familiarized with Canadian activities in an environment where they can speak the language. 

She specifically highlights the significance of Club Casa de los Abuelos involvement with art.

“Having a product and a piece of art you can share with others and say, this is what I brought from the art culture of my home, but I made it here (is particularly powerful),” she says.

Despite the work the group does for the community, if it does not get together the funding, Club Casa de los Abuelos’ future does not look bright.

“We’re trying to tell city hall that we’re doing a job that’s worthwhile and that people should look into our options and not let it go. If we cannot meet our rent – we will have to close down,” Hernández-Oliver says.