(This story is sponsored by Langara College.)
It’s hard to imagine someone who finds their job more rewarding than Kahir Lalji. And with good reason. As the provincial director of healthy aging and government relations with the United Way of the Lower Mainland, he advocates for community-based programs and services to promote social connectedness, physical activity, and civic engagement for seniors across the province.
“The work that we do is geared toward supporting British Columbians to stay at home for as long as they can,” he says. “This is really focused on the psycho-social aspects of people’s lives.”
Lalji leads the government-funded Better at Home program, which is managed by the United Way and works with local nonprofit organizations to help seniors with simple day-to-day tasks so that they can continue to live independently and remain connected to their communities.
“The services that we provide are non-medical in nature, whether it’s walking clubs, transportation to appointments, shovelling snow in somebody’s backyard, group lunches, education sessions, or looking at different governance around policies to support aging in place,” he explains.
Lalji believes that a community-based approach can actually delay the onset of late-life illness. He notes that social isolation can be as risky to an older person as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. And with an aging population, it’s going to be increasingly important that they have access to first class knowledge, funding, programs, and policies that embrace a more holistic approach.
“I look at some of the academic institutions really being intentional in educating students around the need for community-based services. And I know that as a caregiver if I had known about these services, it would have really enhanced the quality of life for my grandmother.”
One such school is Langara College (now accepting applications for its diploma program starting in September), which educates social service workers with a specialization in gerontology. The two-year curriculum combines theory with practice to prepare students to work with a population of older persons from diverse backgrounds.
Lalji applauds Langara’s administration for having the foresight to create a community-based diploma in the field of aging.
“None of us want to be forced to leave our homes just because we’re a certain age,” he says. “And this really provides insight and leadership on being able to provide community-based responses to support all British Columbians in whichever community they choose to live in.”
Graduates of the diploma program in gerontology will have the opportunity to work in a number of different settings depending on their interests and passions. From retirement and long-term care facilities, to health and recreation programs, private home support services, entrepreneurial initiatives, and more. The prospects for someone with expertise in gerontology are diverse and evolving.
“What really speaks to me from this course is how interdisciplinary it is. It really provides a solid foundational perspective on what it’s like to age in the 21st century,” adds Lalji.
Better at Home operates in 137 communities across B.C. Lalji says that seeing the incredible response and impact that it has on people’s lives is one of the best parts of his job.
“In an era of bad news all the time, it’s really comforting to see neighbours helping neighbours,” he says. “This model and philosophy of caring communities is still engrained on the hearts of people across the province.”
Applications for the gerontology program at Langara College are being accepted for September 2019. For those interested in learning more, the college is hosting information sessions from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27, in room B008, and Wednesday, April 17, in room B246. You can also find full details of the program on the website.