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‘Heartwarming’: OLB students go off-campus to help seniors

Our Lady of the Bay holds second annual Seniors Helping Seniors Day; ‘She said it restored her faith in the younger generation’
Our Lady of the Bay students Kieran Foster (left) and Ethan Mulhall helped an area senior level her walkway as part of the school's Seniors Helping Seniors day on May 9, 2024.

Late last week, between 65 and 70 Grade 12 students left their Collingwood high school and went out into the community to connect with local seniors.

What they got in return was a lesson outside the classroom. 

On May 9, Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School participated in their second annual Seniors Helping Seniors Day, where Grade 12 students spend between three and four hours assisting local seniors with work around their homes. The idea came from Our Lady of the Bay’s vice principal Ed Baker, who was appointed to his position at the school last year.

“It’s a good thing for kids to be doing, especially post-COVID. There are so many seniors in Collingwood living alone. Wouldn’t it be great if we had our kids help them out for a day?” he said. “I think there’s a real disconnect between seniors and youth.”

Activities completed by OLB students this year included yard work, landscaping work, cutting grass, moving heavy items and household chores. Baker estimates about 35 households participated this year.

Students Kieran Foster and Ethan Mulhall teamed up to help level a stone walkway for senior Marion.

“She said she felt disconnected from the community because her kids had gone off to post-secondary,” said Foster. “Such a little thing can help people in great ways.”

“I was surprised to find out people are looking for youth connection in the community. If you’re not involved in schools, there’s not a lot of opportunity,” said Mulhall. “I was surprised how much of an impact it had for just a couple of hours.”

Baker managed to organize the first Seniors Helping Seniors Day at the end of the last school year, with this year marking the first year where the school had the entire year to prepare.

“My wife is the vice-principal at St. Mary’s, and we used to work at the Ottawa Catholic board. The school she was at had a program that was similar,” explained Baker. “I wanted to start that here.”

With Our Lady of the Bay being a smaller school, Baker immediately saw a benefit to connecting high school students with seniors. The day coincides with Catholic Education Week, typically at the beginning of May.

For the first year, students were asked to speak with their neighbours and grandparents to ask if they needed help doing anything around the house. This year, the program expanded, with a canvas taking place in the neighbourhoods surrounding OLB in addition to students finding their own seniors to help. Students are paired together for the exercise for safety, and this year Baker said seniors in Collingwood as well as Wasaga Beach, Stayner and Creemore all took part. Students don’t use the hours toward their mandatory graduation requirement either.

“This is not for that. This is just a day where they give up their time and energy,” he said.

Grade 12 student Kayla Lessels’ team helped a local senior set up her patio set.

“She was super sweet. She told us about her life,” said Lessels. “It was heartwarming when she told us about her daughter. It made me grateful, and it made me want to help more.”

Grade 12 student Brody Wells had asked his grandmother if she needed a hand. She said she couldn’t think of anything, but her friend Marie could use some help. Wells took his team of three to assist Marie with tasks such as cleaning windows, gutters and spreading mulch.

“She had a long list of tasks, and she said if we couldn’t finish them all it was OK. But with three of us, it wasn’t that long of a list,” said Wells. “People can be appreciative of small things. It made her life easier.”

“She said it restored her faith in the younger generation. I felt good when I heard that,” he said.

When asked about the future of the program, Baker said he’d like to see it expand next year to include the entire student body.

“It would be a big thing with t-shirts, and it would be a massive event. For now, we’ll take what we can get,” said Baker.

Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School is currently accepting applications for the 2025 Seniors Helping Seniors Day. To fill out a small survey and add your name to the list, click here.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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