by Marisanna Tersigni

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Understanding that being a caregiver is a tough role to have, I believe that programs like these are not only a good way to relax and make new friends, but it is an amazing support system. This sense of community and belonging is what everyone - not just senior caregivers - want to feel.
— Kelly (Volunteer)

The Cooking with Caregivers program brought together youth volunteers and seniors to learn and share their love for food. The program was part of Newcomer Connections for Senior Caregivers (NCSC), a North York Community House (NYCH) project of ENRICHES, a collaborative to reduce isolation among informal/family caregiver seniors. It was facilitated by social work student Leneque along with volunteers Leo and Kelly in early 2018 at the Bathurst and Finch HUB. Senior participants learned healthy recipes, prepared meals and were educated on healthy eating and living practices.

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University student Leo chose NYCH/NCSC as his first volunteer experience: “This was my first volunteer opportunity in Toronto, and I am happy and confident to say, it was also my favourite. I joined this program because I wanted to try something new: help caregivers. I enjoyed all the caregivers’ company and they have all become family to me”.

Leneque, a social work student with the NCSC project, has shared how facilitating Cooking With Caregivers has enhanced her skills and made for a rewarding learning opportunity:

When I volunteer, I am filled with joy every time I see a smile on people’s faces. I am able to hone my leadership and communication skills every week. My peers and colleagues tell me that I have become more confident when public speaking. This experience has also opened my understanding of different senior issues and is one that I will take with me in all of the work that I do in the future.
— Leneque

The NCSC team appreciates the time and dedication these volunteers have put forward into creating a successful cooking program. Both the seniors and volunteers have expressed how they looked forward to attending every week.

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The NCSC project also collaborated with the Youth Cooking and Leadership Program at North York Community House, a 5-week long program for newcomer students. One caregiver senior, Filippo, volunteered his time to instruct in Italian cooking. “I have benefited from this program. I think that all senior caregivers could have a great experience here. In these group and one-to-one programs, you can increase your social connection with people.”

One youth participant speaks to his experience learning from the instructor: “Filippo was amazing! The food that he had cooked for us youth was incredible! He is very kind and amazing to talk to. He taught us different things such as: cutting onions without crying, how to safely handle utensils, and how healthy foods like vegetables and fruits can be used as snacks rather than junk food”.

We can learn much from older adults and from caregivers, and discover talents, skills and connections across cultures and generations. Another youth participant noted: “Youth can learn from the seniors because they have lived through so much and they already have experienced being a teenager.”

Filippo believes that involving oneself either as a participant or a volunteer in community programs can give caregivers courage and comfort.

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My advice for caregivers is to accept help and participate in programs like this one. If you don’t, it’s more difficult to find comfort and serenity to move forward. The challenges can become larger than you and you can become isolated. It’s important to surround yourself with family, friends or people who support you.
— Fillipo

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