A Seniors’ Centre Without Walls: Connecting Seniors in Rural Ontario

Older adult man on the phone.

In light of the current public-health emergency caused by COVID-19, CABHI will be releasing a series of blogs about the aging and brain health solutions aimed at promoting the physical, cognitive, and social well-being of seniors and their caregivers. It is our hope that these resources prove beneficial during this time. 


An innovative idea doesn’t have to be technologically complex to be successful. In fact, some of the best ideas are the simplest ones. Just ask the group of seniors using conference calls to stay connected in Timiskaming, Ontario. They’re staying engaged through Seniors’ Centre Without Walls (SCWW) – a program connecting seniors living in Timiskaming to a variety of stimulating activities from the comfort of their homes.

Seniors' Centre Without Walls participant

SCWW participant

Activities are conducted over the phone and include a range of musical entertainment, games and information sessions on topics such as healthy eating, medication management, fall prevention, and cognitive health.

Dalas Forget, Finance and Operations Manager at Timiskaming Home Support and former Program Coordinator for SCWW, believes the program supplements a growing need for social interaction among rural seniors.

“A great number of our participants could probably go to a seniors’ centre once a month, but socially that isn’t sufficient,” he argues.

What started as a pilot program through the Centre for Aging + Brain Health’s (CABHI) Spark initiative has grown into a permanent program now offered by Timiskaming Home Support with assistance from the Temiskaming Health Unit.

The program is offered to seniors free of charge, making it both physically and financially accessible. To Forget, the program’s impact has proven invaluable.

“I have a participant who always says, ‘It’s everything about going out to meet with your friends, except for the milk and cookies.’ ”

With cases of COVID-19 on the rise in Ontario, SCWW is critical for the safety and well-being of older adults living at home. In addition to the regular activities, an information session dedicated to COVID-19 has been made available for seniors wanting to learn more. Melanie McLean, SCWW’s current Program Coordinator, says the program gives seniors something to look forward to every day.

“SCWW is a great way to be social but still follow the COVID-19 recommendations that call for physical distancing,” says McLean. Through SCWW, seniors – the population most vulnerable with respect to contracting COVID-19 – can remain safe and healthy without compromising their cognitive and mental health.

Staying connected

Approximately one quarter of the population in the Timiskaming district is made up of seniors age 65 and above[i]. Accessing public services in the city can be challenging, even with the help of family members. That’s why SCWW is so important, says Forget.

“If as an adult you worked for five days of the week and then all of a sudden you retire and come to town once every two weeks to do groceries – that’s a very drastic change in your socialization,” he points out.


“It’s everything about going out to meet with your friends, except for the milk and cookies.”


SCWW, seniors can connect to the teleconference system by simply dialing in to the session they wish to take part in. If they have difficulty connecting, a staff member will walk them through the process. This makes the program accessible for older adults with a range of cognitive awareness levels and technical skills.

Even the tech support is a form of social interaction, says Forget. “I speak to participants sometimes twice in one day. That’s probably more than any of them speak to their own families in a week!”

SCWW has a built-in longevity plan with the potential to attract agencies that want to connect to hard-to-reach populations, like rural Canadians. This makes Forget confident about the program’s future. “This program is special because it brings together a group of people who might not ever be in the same space,” he says.

With continued support from CABHI, SCWW will have the tools and resources needed to further serve the seniors in their community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.


Watch this clip to learn more about Seniors’ Centre Without Walls:


[1] https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=CD&Code1=3554&Geo2=PR&Code2=35&SearchText=Timiskaming&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All&GeoLevel=PR&GeoCode=3554&TABID=1&type=0