Mike Vanderbeck

Mike Vanderbeck

Seniors still helping seniors

The first director of the Seniors Information Resource Bureau (SIRB) looks back at the agencies beginnings 20 years ago

Twenty years ago, Vernon agencies with services for seniors were doing a good job. But the people involved kept hearing that either people didn’t know about what they had to offer or had difficulty accessing them physically or by phone.

In the spring of 1991, a group of representatives from service agencies came together to talk and hold meetings for public input.

“It was agreed that we needed a one-stop shop to assist seniors,” said Mike Vanderbeck, the first director of the Seniors Information Resource Bureau (SIRB), which opened its doors in 1992 with financial support from the then North Okanagan Health Unit and sponsorship from the Social Planning Council. SIRB had several locations around town during the 15 years Vanderbeck was director and it is now settled in The People Place.

“We needed to start from scratch but the plan, and our motto, was always, ‘seniors helping seniors.’ This would never have been possible without the volunteers. We wanted seniors to know that they didn’t have to go to 10 different places to get information and help.”

He said the things people had questions about remained relatively consistent over the years and include pensions and benefits, filling out forms, transportation, and help with income taxes.

“The legacy continues,” said Vanderbeck, who was responsible for fundraising through applications for grants from provincial and federal governments and other funding agencies. He also served on a number of provincial and federal government and non-profit agency committees for seniors’ issues.

“One of our big projects, in the 1990s, was the Elder Abuse Project. That got a lot of community involvement. The Falls Prevention Project was another good project for SIRB. When I was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, I accepted it on behalf of all seniors in the area. I think we made a difference and that SIRB continues to make a difference. There will always be people who need help and I hope there will always be the volunteers to keep SIRB open to help them. If the volunteers don’t have the answers to questions, they will  find them.”

Current SIRB executive director Dayle Drury appreciates what Vanderbeck did to get the organization established.

“I always thought he didn’t get enough credit when he was here. He did so much to see that the services and information were there for the seniors in the community,” she said. “With so many cutbacks to services for seniors and so many people becoming seniors, we work hard to keep up to date on what is happening.”

The SIRB office gets up to 50 calls or walk-ins per day on its busiest days, and the staff and volunteers have to be prepared to answer any question.

Drury is concerned that now much of the information for seniors is online and the expectation is that it will be accessed that way.

“That is a barrier for many seniors. There will always be a part of the population who will be unable to use computers without assistance.”

The office continues to find seniors who don’t know about the services available to them. For example, a man in his 70s who was not receiving his old age pension yet and a woman who did not know she could get it.

“What happens to these people who can’t get what they are entitled to. There are some seniors who are functionally illiterate, not able to understand information in English or just don’t know where to go for information. It’s a changing time for seniors to be sure and there is an awareness gap that needs to be addressed,” said Drury. “This service is so badly needed and there’s a capacity for a lot more to be done with programs like Volunteer Drivers and Friendly Visitors. This is a place where people can have their issue heard and get information about where to go next. This is not necessarily for low-income seniors. It’s for all seniors.”