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Therapeutic activation program keeps Creston seniors on the go

Among Creston’s most beloved services is the Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors...
Members and volunteers from the Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors recently participated in their annual spring concert

Among Creston’s most beloved services is the Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors (TAPS). It has needed a lot of love to survive this long, too, because it is among the few such programs in the province that was able to continue after severe provincial cutbacks in the 1990s.

Originally started 20 years ago by Bridget Currie, a home support worker, TAPS began with 11 clients who received 10 hours of service a month. Funding came through the health care system.

“The program was designed to serve isolated seniors who had depression and mental health issues,” Currie recalls.

Currie ran the program for about five years, then moved on to other challenges. TAPS was then co-ordinated by Jill Fehr, who would run the program for more than a dozen years.

Funding cuts buy the Interior Health Authority (IHA) nearly caused the end of the program.

“Jill Fehr realized that Interior Health was going to stop the funding and she convinced (former Creston citizen of the year) Alex Nilsson that the program shouldn’t die,” said Serena Naeve, executive director of the non-profit Creston and District Community Resource Centre (CRC) Society, which operates a dozen and a half programs, mostly under contract to various provincial government ministries.

“Alex came to me about the need for TAPS,” she said. “And when I listened to the heart of what Jill described — the value of independence for people who averaged 86 years of age — I thought, ‘This is what I want when I’m older and can no longer drive.’ TAPS fits my sense of community.”

By helping isolated and lonely seniors get out and participate in social setting, TAPS provides a lifeline to the larger community.

“These are people who have chosen to have continued independence, with some support from the community,” Naeve said. “They want to keep contributing. That’s what I want out of my life, too. Many of our participants would be extremely isolated without TAPS.”

With the support of her board of directors, Naeve and CRC took over responsibility for the operation of TAPS and has, through fundraising and grants, been able to keep the program going. It’s a startling fact, given that most similar programs around the province simply disappeared when IHA funding dried up.

Ironically, nearly everyone involved with TAPS over the years, from clients to volunteers to support workers and professionals, has been convinced that the program actually saves the health care system money. They believe that TAPS participants are healthier, mentally and physically, and less prone to be spending time in hospital or using other health care services.

“But it’s very hard to quantify,” Naeve admitted.

Today, TAPS serves about 65 seniors and functions with five part-time staff and about 50 volunteers, including the Krafty Kronys, a group that once operated the tuck shop in the hospital. Now, they devote their efforts into raising funds to keep the program going by selling a variety of handcrafted items.

And, in a move that makes it seem like she has come full circle, TAPS founder Currie has, for the past 18 months, once again become the program’s co-ordinator.

“I had a 13-year break,” she laughed. “Then Jill called me and said she was ready to retire. I realized that I was ready to come back.”

Currie credits the community and its remarkable volunteers for sustaining the program.

“Creston people have such generosity,” she said. “Everybody volunteers for a different reason and we try to match them with an area they are interested in, to encourage them to keep coming back.”

If there is a perception that TAPS is a quiet gathering of elderly folks who get together to eat and participate in activities designed to keep them amused, that perception needs to be corrected. Participants are eager to be productive and they, as much as anyone, have worked to keep the program going with fund-raising efforts.

TAPS pies have become famous throughout the Creston Valley and huge baking bees keep the supply rolling out. But there have been numerous other efforts too, all of which harken back to Naeve’s comment.

“Quality of life from beginning to end,” she said. “That’s what we are all looking for. We want to feel as emotionally and physically intact as we can be. We want to be useful to others.”

Regular activities include ripping up material into rag-sized pieces for the Creston Valley Gleaners Society, which responds by helping support the program.

Last year, the group was approached by some Telus ambassadors (retired employees who support charity work).

“We took on a project of making afghans, cookies and gift bags,” Currie said. “For three months it was just crazy around here. We ended up making 75 afghans — it was just amazing!”

That project raised $3,000 for TAPS and was so successful that gift bags and afghans were donated to other needy people in the community.

“We’re just waiting for the next Telus project,” she said. “Right now they are knitting for Crestview, but there is also a link to send mitts and toques to a First Nations community in North Manitoba.

“Seniors have a role to play and they have amazing skills—they just need to be encouraged to use them.”

In another effort designed to connect TAPS seniors with younger generations, a College of the Rockies greenhouse program brought them together with young families to garden and cook.

“When you garden and cook, you talk and make connections between seniors and other community members,” she said.

Next month, TAPS will benefit from a concert by the visiting Kelowna International Choir.

“This came about from a connection of a cousin and a hairdresser — it’s all very complicated,” Currie laughed.

But the end result is that the choir will perform its Golden Age of Rock concert at Prince Charles Theatre on May 27. All net proceeds go to TAPS.

The death knell for TAPS has nearly been rung several times over the years, but each time some small miracle has occurred to keep this vital program in operation. Funding operations that include staffing, buses and a facility hasn’t been easy, but Naeve is optimistic for its future.

It’s simply too important to the community for it not to continue.

“Seniors, like babies and children, need to be hugged and touched,” she said. “That’s exactly what TAP provides for them — hugs and touches.”