Kicking it 'Old School': Non-profit hopes to help seniors through the arts and community

·3 min read
Claire Rouleau, left, and Erin Winsor stand in front of the bus they intend to retrofit to bring arts to seniors and students. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Claire Rouleau, left, and Erin Winsor stand in front of the bus they intend to retrofit to bring arts to seniors and students. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)

Boarding a bright yellow 34-foot 2008 Bluebird school bus is the first step for the Old School Intergenerational Project to take its unique vision across Newfoundland and Labrador.

On Wednesday the co-founders of the non-profit organization showed off the school bus that will soon be theirs thanks to about $24,000 in federal funding.

"The vision for the bus is to be an accessible space for all people; seniors, children and everyone in between," said the project's Erin Winsor. "We want them to connect through arts activities."

In 2018 Winsor and Claire Rouleau started a pen pal program that paired students from Leary's Brook Junior High with residents of the Kenny's Pond retirement home.

The duo followed that up with a project called Telephone Tunes, which connected isolated seniors with local musicians through both COVID-19 lockdowns.

Winsor and Rouleau are graduates of Sheridan Collage's musical theatre program but have since moved toward using their artistic skills for more than just entertainment.

This project will be a lot bigger and require a lot more work. Thanks to a grant from the federal government's New Horizons for Seniors Program, they have some money to work with.

"It is our mission to connect generations through the arts," Windsor said.

The plan is to retrofit the school bus to be a travelling work space, allowing them to reach more isolated parts of the province. The bus will also serve as an administrative space and might even be used as the backstage area for specialized performances the group has planned.

City Wide Taxi helped the pair find the bus.
City Wide Taxi helped the pair find the bus. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Rouleau called it a "participatory, non-verbal" show.

"It's going to be designed for those with dementia or those who struggle with language or some form of memory loss," she said.

"It's not going to be focused on narrative and plot; it's going to be very exploratory and sensory."

The premise of the play will be developed with the help of seniors in the community; and they've added a little youth to their board of directors — well, honorary, as 13-year-old Sam Hannaford technically can't join until he is 18.

Sam Hannaford took a keen interest in the duo's pen pal program and has since been brought out to help out the group.
Sam Hannaford took a keen interest in the duo's pen pal program and has since been brought out to help out the group.(Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Sam took part in the pen pal program and said he thoroughly enjoys meeting people, preferring to do it face to face rather than in cyberspace.

"I just really liked talking to seniors and helping them," he said. "Telling them about myself or them telling me about themselves. I found that really cool."

The Old School Intergenerational Project hopes to lean on him during the planning stages to get insight from the youth side.

The group is also looking for seniors to get involved as well. In fact, they are looking for a lot of help: backers to help fund the project and a space to retrofit the bus and get it road-ready.

The two are well aware of the challenges COVID-19 brings but feels the bus could still help people, due to its size.

"It's bigger than it looks," Rouleau said. "Even with maintaining that six-feet distance we still will be able to accommodate small groups."

Winsor, left, and Rouleau incorporated the Old School Intergenerational Project in 2020.
Winsor, left, and Rouleau incorporated the Old School Intergenerational Project in 2020.(Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

City Wide Taxi helped the pair pick out a bus and has offered to show them how to drive it when it's complete. With the seats removed, Windsor said, a special licence isn't required.

While the project doesn't have a timeline yet for when the bus will hit the road, the small organization took a big step forward Wednesday — and hopes to continue rolling along.

"Our hope is that by at least next year we are on the road to small communities that want to experience the bus and all that comes with it," said Windsor.

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