From cradle to grave

How its youngest and oldest citizens are treated is telling of a community. Here are three organizations that are making a difference in the lives of families


From Andrew Fleck Children’s Services for preschool aged kids and their parents; to Bruyère, which supports older adults, to Compassionate Ottawa, which helps residents to deal with dying, grief and loss, Ottawa has organizations to cover the needs of every age and stage.

Andrew Fleck Children’s Services

As one of the oldest and most diversified non-profit, charitable, multi-service early learning, childcare, and family support organizations in Ottawa, Andrew Fleck Children’s Services (AFCS) has been fulfilling the needs of the youngest in this community since 1911.

Building solid relationships through their upcoming intergenerational programs is going to keep AFCS busy for the next four years. The program would likely meet the approval of philanthropist Andrew Fleck. Fleck’s dream was for an Ottawa day nursery and in 1931, it became a reality when his wife, Gertrude, provided the community with a building for the nursery. It was renamed the Andrew Fleck Child Care Centre in 1970 in his honour. “Our three demonstration sites for the intergenerational programs will focus on building long-lasting relationships between young and old,” says Neeka Barnes, director of special projects with AFCS. “We know that older adults in the community have much to give — whether it’s helping in the kitchen, gardening or reading books with children in the program.  The relationships developed will be very individual and organic in nature.” Barnes says the program not only reduces seniors’ isolation, but it also provides an opportunity for children to connect with older adults. “These interactions really assist with promoting optimal early brain development in children and the benefits of intergenerational programs support the foundation for lifelong health and well-being in both young and old.”

Jose Fernandez, intergenerational project assistant with AFCS points out: “Ottawa is a growing city. We have many new Canadians settling here with extended families spread around the world. We can help give children that ‘grandparent’ experience that they may be missing, and provide that ‘grandchild’ experience for them if they’re missing family.” Barnes adds that the key to building long-lasting meaningful relationships and the children is through play.

“The families of the children will be involved too,” says Barnes. “We will keep parents up to date on the activities and emerging relationships with pictures and by using a communication app [called] StoryPark. It’s known that in some cases, families often become an extended family for the child’s ‘grand-friend’ and pursue activities outside of the childcare centre. It’s delightful to see the joy that the children and the ‘grand-friends’ give to each other.”



Bruyère has been giving back to the community since 1845. “Our namesake, Sister Élisabeth Bruyère was a force for good,” says Marie-Eve Pinard, director of mission, client experience and clinical ethics. “She had the hospital built within months of arriving in the city. She saw a need and filled it and the organization remains committed to fill that need and give back to the community.”

On any given day, the organization supports over 1,000 older adults with complex care and rehabilitation programs that improve quality of life and help people return home to independent or supported living in the community. Research at Bruyère is paving the way with innovations to help seniors in the community remain safely in their homes. They also have two long-term care homes and offer assisted and independent living for seniors. “We’re really excited about a new partnership at Bruyère Village in Orleans,” says Denise Rousseau-Pistilli, executive director, Bruyère Village. “The tenants living in the independent housing units for seniors spearheaded the idea to put in a wildlife friendly garden with the help of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Terry Fox School. It’s an amazing intergenerational knowledge exchange offering mentorship opportunities and we are working together to build a beautiful space that people of all ages in the community can enjoy. There’s even a bike path along the property. It’s a wonderful way to give back.”


Compassionate Ottawa

Although it has only been in existence for a few years, Compassionate Ottawa aims to increase the comfort of dealing with death. Part of that is knowing what to do, how to help each other and how to reach out. “This pandemic really affected our ability to grieve,” says Jena Davarajah, program coordinator at Compassionate Ottawa. “Because of lockdowns, we couldn’t meet to grieve lost friends and family. Social grieving just wasn’t an option.” Davarajah says that seniors were more likely affected by COVID restrictions. “We did provide webinars that were workshops on grief and grieving, but nothing compares to providing that in-person gift of conversation when someone had died or is dying.” Davarajah says that Compassionate Ottawa is a social movement to instill compassion in everyday life and to teach people how to reach out. It’s a slow process, but they are starting to bridge the gaps and connect with diverse groups in the city, she says. “We have the tools and we’ve established great connections in the community. And we adapt those tools to fit the needs of the community, along with experts to provide awareness.”

Davarajah says the pandemic made people realize just how much there is a need to grieve – across all age groups and generations. “Compassionate Ottawa can help,” she says. “Our tools are very practical and are a small act of giving back to bring more awareness for the entire community.”


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