Olive started the seniors' newspaper, "Voice for Island Seniors", which is still published by the local daily newspaper, The Guardian. She also established the Seniors' Active Living Centre with input from a committee of seniors and construction support from the owner of the mall in which it was first located. After a few years, the Centre moved to a new location that proved unpopular, and with support from the City of Charlottetown and an exceptional Mayor of the time, the Seniors' Active Living Centre finally became part of the Charlottetown Area Recreation Inc. (CARI) complex. With improved accessibility and parking, membership increased to approximately 400 and continues to grow.
Seniors College at UPEI
In 1997, Olive was invited by Professor Thom Nilsson to explore the establishment of new learning opportunities for older adults. Within months, the first public meeting was held and Olive was invited to chair a steering committee exploring the feasibility of the project. After much deliberation, it was decided that the Seniors College would be an autonomous membership-based, peer-governed organization affiliated with UPEI but having its own Board of Directors, with courses facilitated by peers. A memorandum of agreement was signed with the University in July 1998 and the first Board of Directors elected with Olive as first President. The Seniors College continues to flourish today, with an outreach component in Summerside and in Montague, and a membership of more than 600 with over 40 courses offered.
Seniors' Safety Program
Scams are targeted toward seniors, and the most vulnerable seniors, those who are isolated in their home and do not get out to information sessions, are lacking the tools they need to protect themselves.
This issue was identified in 1999, when it became evident that a series of workshops on Frauds and Scams that Seniors' Federation was offering was not attracting or reaching the more isolated seniors. In response, Olive established a committee of stakeholders to find ways to reach seniors who would not or could not attend information sessions. The committee included representation from the RCMP, City Police, Public Trustee, Consumer Services, the Royal Bank and the Seniors' Federation. This group searched for and found a model that was being used in Annapolis County, Nova Scotia. A partnership chaired by Olive was formed with a view to implementing a similar program in PEI, and the Seniors Safety Program was created.
The Program provides isolated, vulnerable, and community-dwelling seniors with personal safety, home safety, and health information designed to help reduce fear of crime, vulnerability to frauds and scams, and susceptibility to unscrupulous contractors and abuse. The program is delivered to groups as well as individual seniors in their home and covers a wide range of valuable information designed to provide access to services that will promote safety and independence at home and in community.
The PEI Centre on Health and Aging at UPEI is presently working on a project with a province-wide scope to raise awareness on abuse of older adults by forging networks and information-sharing among researchers, adult protection and support organizations, policy makers, and seniors' organizations. They propose to increase the knowledge of 200 Island seniors on how to identify and prevent the abuse of older adults through a Seniors-to-Seniors Awareness Program grounded in different communities where they live.
Bridging the generation gap
A great way for seniors and youth to purposefully work together … both groups found out there really is no difference between people's ages when everyone wants to be seen as an important part of society.
Olive strongly supports intergenerational activity and mutual respect. She won competitive funding from the New Horizons Program to initiate and coordinate an intergenerational event with participants from the Seniors' Active Living Centre and Rotary International students, who worked together to write scripts related to issues impacting both segments of the population. Students from all over the world participated and after many rehearsals the project presented an evening performance that showcased seniors' and students' talents alike.
Currently the Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Young at Heart Musical Theatre for Seniors, Olive regards the project as superb enrichment for seniors who live in long-term care facilities, and a forum for dealing with issues that are meaningful to the senior demographic. It is a unique professional theatre company dedicated to developing original material based on Canadian subjects, well-known persons or historical events, with five successful productions to its credit, and counting.
Success is never guaranteed
It's there for government to decide what seniors should have, and not for seniors to let government know what they need.
Olive cautions that activists may fail, no matter how sound their arguments for progressive action and social inclusion. At the time she was serving on the PEI Senior Citizens' Federation, the provincial government was setting up a Seniors' Advisory Committee, and asked Olive to propose her vision for best governance and goals. Her document highlighted one particularly significant recommendation for achieving fair representation of seniors' issues across the province: ensure that each major senior's organization would be on the Committee with two more seats at the Minister's discretion. Much to her chagrin and great disappointment, a simplistic rationale was adopted instead that based seat selection on linguistic groups (French and English), and county locations. According to Olive, this was a poor formula. It was eventually revamped in 2006, but still does not feature a variety of seniors' representation from such groups as the retired teachers' and faculty associations, and individual senior clubs or the Seniors Active Living Centre. According to Olive, the perspective of the ordinary senior citizen is missing from the revamped Seniors' Secretariat.
Motivation for social activism
Seniors feel they are imposing, and if they can't reciprocate, then they just won't do it. They will sit home and become depressed and not get to do things they should be doing.
Olive summarizes her pressing issues as: (1) Ageism in public and private discussions about seniors that works against a complex, respectful understanding of generational needs and attitudes; and (2) widespread public ignorance of what is needed for seniors to live healthy and productive lives. She believes that most seniors want to be participating in society without depending unduly on their families.
The attitudes held by some seniors contribute to reduced opportunities for their ease of integration into social activities. They don't believe they have the right to ask for assistance to do more than get out to medical appointments, buy groceries, or do their banking. And while people often come forward to help out with the essentials, when it comes to visiting and doing such things as going to wakes and funerals, visiting cemeteries to maintain the flowers, or just going for drives in the country, there seems to be no help. Olive remarks that neither the seniors themselves, nor their younger family members, seem to fully appreciate how important and life-enhancing these social activities can be.Seniors want to improve their quality of life but often don't have the transportation to make this happen. Much of Olive's activism has been focused on encouraging seniors to respect their own needs and demand services that will allow them not to be entirely dependent on volunteers and families in order to be healthy and participate in their community.