Community Connections

Community Connections

During the summer of 2021, when temperatures were soaring dangerously high in Vancouver, Miriam Homem de Mello was on the phone with seniors, ensuring they were okay and letting them know they weren't alone. She quickly established relationships with several senior residents on her call list, a vital service she had volunteered to deliver for the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House. As a student of Langara's Gerontology program, Miriam had the knowledge and insights into how to reassure worried seniors, but it was her natural calm, reassuring presence that made a real difference in many seniors' lives that summer.

In her current role as the Programs Assistant at the West End Seniors Network, Miriam works with a team similarly trained in gerontology studies, many of whom are also graduates from the in-demand new program, Diploma in Gerontology, launched in 2018 at Langara College. The numbers clearly support the need for such a program. According to Statistics Canada, over the next 25 years (by 2046), the population aged 85 and older could triple to almost 2.5 million. For Miriam, it was a logical choice to pursue studies in gerontology:

I saw how relevant it was, how important it was to society. I could also see that society is not prepared for how many seniors we will have in the future. 

Ageing in Community

Langara's Gerontology program promises graduates the skills and training to "provide innovative services to older adults that prevent social isolation, promote mental, physical, and emotional health, and support older adults to age in place while staying active in their communities.” It was the program's focus on community that was a highlight for Miriam. "I loved Building Community Based Practices with Older Adults." she says. Taught by instructor Jasmine Rockwell, the course examines how inclusion, marginalization, exclusion, and oppression can impact older adults within various community contexts.

I liked that the course put ideas and theory into practice. It challenged us to put things into the real world and think about our own purpose in the community.


As part of her requirements for the program, Miriam secured a practicum with the United Way. She combined her interest in community services and transportation during her practicum. "I joined a working group focused on transportation. One of my jobs was conducting an inventory of transportation services across BC," explains Miriam. "It's interesting to see that some places have no bus service at all. It's really challenging for people, especially seniors, to get to a doctor's appointment." She quickly points out that it's more than just a service issue; it's a societal one. "For example, if seniors want to go to a movie, they can't. They think, 'I will just stay home,' which creates further isolation." She believes transportation is a key area that needs re-thinking at the community level when it comes to the ageing population. "City buses have ramps that lower to make wheelchair access available, which is great," says Miriam. "But what about the senior trying to get to the bus stop from their home?"

Through her practicum, she gained insights into the province-wide needs of seniors when it comes to transportation and the role it plays in their daily lives. "For example, sometimes the bus stop has no cover, no bench, or is a long way from their home. These are real challenges for older people," explains Miriam. While she is no longer a part of the working group, Miriam has gained a broader perspective on how seniors at the municipal and provincial levels are navigating the availability or lack of essential services in their communities. An invaluable experience that prepared her for working in the field of gerontology.

A Welcoming Place

In her new role as programs assistant at the West End Seniors Network (WESN), Miriam can apply her knowledge and interest in community building in exciting ways. "I love all the programs at WESN because there's so much for seniors to do. You can learn ukulele, play bridge with friends, challenge others in Scrabble or sing," enthuses Miriam. Located in the historic Barclay Manor, WESN is a vibrant place with a simple mission to provide "services that foster connection and inclusion in the broader community." Miriam sees a "lot of possibilities for connection" at WESN and considers the centre a social hub critical to the lives of older residents in the area. "People are very engaged here. The programs offer seniors a way to get out and moving because they have to return every week for these programs. They meet the same group of people and gain a sense of connection and community." 

As one of the first cohorts of alums, Miriam is a whole-hearted champion of the Gerontology program at Langara. She says that as a mature student in the program, she always felt welcomed by the faculty and her classmates. "I felt it was inclusive,” says Miriam.

And I would say to anyone considering the program that you can find your way, your place, even if you're new to Canada. There are lots of opportunities if you take this program.

For the foreseeable future, Miriam will be fostering meaningful community connections with seniors through her love of music and photography and her innate empathy for older residents in Vancouver's West End.