Sarnia is an aging community.
The median age is 44.8 years, meaning half of Sarnians are older and half are younger. That’s four years above the Ontario median, and five years older than the city was a decade ago, according to the 2011 census.
Enter CARP, an organization devoted to enhancing the quality of life of all Canadians as they age. A Sarnia-Lambton chapter was launched last September, building on 1,500 local residents who were already national members.
“We’ve discovered there’s an interest in people – largely retired people – coming together and getting to know one another,” said local board chair Sheila Newton-Smith.
“And CARP is a major advocacy organization … the more members; the more powerful it is in terms of advocating on issues and concerns.”
CARP ditched its full name, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, and goes only by the acronym now because society’s concepts of work and aging have changed, said Newton-Smith.
“The age of retirement has been dropped, and a lot of people work part-time or continue working. Many people don’t wish to retire, and many can’t afford to. Retirement is being reinvented.”
Most older workers who leave long-term jobs don’t fully enter retirement. In fact, more than half of all workers aged 55 to 64 who left long-term jobs between 1994 and 2000 were re-employed within a decade, Statistics Canada reported last month.
In addition to bringing like-minded people together CARP uses political clout – older people tend to vote – to advocate on topical issues. CPP security, Canada Post home delivery and unsafe hospital discharge practises are among its latest causes.
CARP also offers discounts on produce and services such as insurance, hotels, travel and home care.
Before retiring herself, Newton-Smith, who gives her age as “late 60s,” had a busy and eclectic career. She worked locally at the Family Counselling Centre and District Health Council, among others, and retired as a supervisor at the Sarnia-Lambton Children’s Aid Society. Her husband Richard, also retired, was executive director.
The couple along with Peter and Sheila Fitzsimons started the chapter’s steering committee, and all four remain active on the board.
“We’d read about CARP and were interested in their mission, which is to enhance the quality of life of all Canadians,” she said.
The goal of the local chapter this year is to build membership and help the national organization triple in size to one million members. The January meeting in Sarnia drew 130 people.
The Newton-Smiths’ own family experience is typical of many residents. Their two children grew up here but left for greener pastures after college: Sara, 35, is working in the U.S. and Chris, 37, in Europe.
“Our kids loved Sarnia but the jobs weren’t here,” Sheila Newton-Smith said.
An aging city comes with challenges, but also strengths, she added.
“We have an excellent health care system, but obviously in any system there are needs that aren’t met. There are things this community needs to address.”
On the other hand, Sarnia has a tremendous wealth of experience and wisdom on which to draw. Older people offer continuity, make excellent employees and can mentor younger people who do find jobs here, she said.
“One of the things we’ve noticed is that people here enjoy Sarnia. One man who called and left a message said she was very glad to see CARP coming to Sarnia, the ‘greatest community in Canada.’ Maybe she was exaggerating a little bit, but people are very loyal to Sarnia and are very appreciative. I know we are.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Meeting of CARP, Sarnia-Lambton chapter
WHEN: Monday, March 24, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Metro room, Jack Doyle’s Irish Grille, 1249 London Road, Sarnia
WHY: Travel-themed evening. Speaking will be adventurer and mountain climber Mike Hurry, and travel expert Sherry Williams with “Five top travel trends for Zoomers.”
– George Mathewson