Where do we grow from here? Post-COVID recovery a challenge for Cowichan YSAG

The YSAG crew readies for a community parade. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)The YSAG crew readies for a community parade. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)
One of the groups under the YSAG umbrella makes whimsical birdhouses. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)One of the groups under the YSAG umbrella makes whimsical birdhouses. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)
A display of some of the work of the busy hands group under YSAG. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)A display of some of the work of the busy hands group under YSAG. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)
YSAG donates large numbers of items to a variety of charities in the Cowichan Valley. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)YSAG donates large numbers of items to a variety of charities in the Cowichan Valley. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)
The YSAG folk arts group uses their imaginations. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)The YSAG folk arts group uses their imaginations. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)
Helen Lainchbury is one of YSAG’s longest serving members. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)Helen Lainchbury is one of YSAG’s longest serving members. (Photo courtesy of YSAG)

By Jennifer Heinrichs

In 1988, 10 mature Malahat Legion members felt the area needed more social and recreational activities, to keep folks from “sagging” as they aged. Lucky for us, they took the initiative to create them! With grants from the federal, provincial and municipal governments this newly formed group, who (aptly) named themsleves YSAG (Young Seniors Action Groups), was able to pay for improvements to the Malahat Legion premises on Mill Bay/Shawnigan Lake Road, in return getting a room of their own for their activities.

With foresight into its longevity and sustained existence, YSAGs founders also registered the group under the Societies Act. While YSAG founders made sure it was not necessary to be a Legion member to join YSAG, about half always have been members in both. COVID-19, and the resultant cancellation of activities and isolation of folks hit YSAG hard, however, and the membership and volunteer base struggles, as does the Legion’s.

As most non-profits and community-based, member-funded groups and organizations know all too well, partnerships make everyone’s life easier and better. YSAG’s relationship with the Malahat Legion is longstanding and strong, with YSAG members taking on Poppy Fund mailouts and soup and sandwich lunches once a week. During the pandemic YSAG quilters sewed face masks, with donations going to the Malahat Legion and local schools, and sewed quilts for Quilts of Valour. YSAG partners with the Legion for donation drives as well, like the Toys, Toiletries and Toques campaign for holiday hampers.

“We are grateful for our dedicated members, who step up every time they are asked, which is often with such a small membership and full program agenda,” notes current club President Skip Whitfield. “All our group facilitators and volunteers believe in making our world a better place for everyone; there are just a lot fewer of us after COVID,” says Whitfield, adding, “We hope a new generation of caring, community-minded, active, 55-plusers in the south Cowichan Valley join in a few of our activities, perhaps avoiding the senior AND COVID-19 ‘SAG’!”

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YSAG has no original founders left. The group’s longest serving members today are Helen and Denis Lainchbury. Denis was a long time director, then president. He started mens walking, woodcarving, and stained glass groups, and drove the bus for many YSAG trips. In 2000 Denis’s wife Helen started to facilitate the Tai Chi group, which she still does. She is also involved in folk arts, quilting and busy hands, which are led by a more recent YSAG member and volunteer, Dianne Casavant, who joined after retiring in 2010.

With Casavant at the helm of quilting and folk arts, Thursday is a very busy day for YSAG members. Her folk arts group meets in the mornings, and uses water based acrylic paints on wood, glass, metal, pine cones, etc.

“No surface is overlooked and members are encouraged to think outside the box and surprise me with their imaginations,” noted Casavant.

They paint items for YSAG and Legion events, and decorate the rooms and grounds with their whimsical and wonderful creations.

“One of our greatest feats was painting on shoes for table centrepieces at a spring tea,” Casavant said. “Instead of balloons hanging from the ceiling we hung painted shoes….My goodness, the looks on peoples faces!”

Casavant also facilitates YSAGs Thursday afternoon quilting group. This group works on items for groups in the south Cowichan area, including Duncan. This year they have sewn 40 quilts for Jeneece Place for sick children’s foundation. In the past they have donated quilts to Quilts of Valour, Cairnsmore Extended Care, Broadmead Care, and Somenos House. If that isn’t spreading themselves (pun intended) too thin… they also sew blankets for Broken Promises Rescue.

Another popular YSAG group is Friday afternoon’s busy hands. Cécile Healey currently facilitates busy hands, whose members gather to knit or crochet tuques, scarves, slippers, and more. Most of their creations are donated to charities as well, from the north Cowichan Valley all the way to Victoria. Care homes, shelters, animal rescues, safe houses, veterans, and food banks have been on the receiving end of their lovely creations. This year alone they distributed 44 Afghans, 12 sets of baby clothes, 188 facecloths, 163 hats, 13 head bands, five pairs of mittens/gloves, 41 scarves, 38 sets of hats and scarves, six shawls, 123 slippers, and five pairs of socks, for a total of 638 items.

“With that huge volume of items, donations of yarn are always appreciated,” Healey said, adding, “Or, you can come help us create! The good conversation, tea and goodies are just a bonus to being a part of this YSAG group.”

YSAGs volunteer facilitators and members demonstrate the very best of volunteering and caring and sharing, to make our community a better place. They know that isolation, ill health, and loneliness can come with aging, and, as we’ve seen, with COVID. They also know this decline can be avoided.

“You have to get involved and give something back if you want to live your fullest, most meaningful life,” noted Jen Heinrichs, YSAGs newest group facilitator and director.

Jen Heinrichs is a member of YSAG.

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