The Yellow Door: Combatting senior isolation

Building a community through cross-generational bonding

Kathryn Rieb (second from left) and Gabrielle McLaren (right) participate in the knitting circle alongside two members. Photo Demetra Kritsidimas

Amid the clicking of knitting needles and a table full of vibrant-coloured yarn, the Yellow Door’s Tuesday afternoon knitting circle weaves together individuals from all generations. This scene captures the essence of the organization’s mission to bridge the gap between young and elderly communities through a plethora of activities.

The Yellow Door aims to minimize social isolation and exclusion of seniors, which is related to serious health effects and reduced quality of life. According to the International Federation on Aging, “the number one emerging issue facing seniors in Canada is keeping older people socially connected and active.” The government of Canada estimates that 30 per cent of Canadian seniors are at risk of becoming socially isolated. To combat the increasing senior isolation, Yellow Door helps up to a dozen seniors at each of their events.

Ever since moving to Montreal six years ago, Caroline Alince, the wellness group program coordinator, has been actively involved within the organization. Contributing as a volunteer since the age of 18 and getting hired into a full-time position this September, Alince said they have always been interested in the Yellow Door’s mission and thought it was a great community space.

The Yellow Door runs an initiative called the “55+ Community Hour” every Wednesday afternoon. A new activity takes place every week, with certain popular ones on a recurring basis. Seniors who would like to partake in this weekly hour are required to sign up free of charge to become a member. 

“I choose [the activities], but I also like to listen to seniors’ input about what they would like. That’s one of the only wellness groups that’s exclusive to our members.” Alince explained. 

So far, the community hour has seen activities like line dancing, bingo, workshops held by special guests, potlucks, a reading group and yoga. The group also goes on field trips, for instance, their apple-picking excursion this fall.

The Yellow Door also teaches seniors about technology. The idea was created in response to people’s reliance on technology during the pandemic. Dubbed BiblioTech Connect, the initiative notably allows seniors to borrow tablets. Tech Cafés are also hosted, where seniors can bring their own devices while volunteers give presentations and initiate small group projects about tech-related topics to help seniors get more familiar with their cell phone or tablet. 

If the members need more help, the organization provides one-on-one support with trained volunteers. Those Tech Help sessions are also great social bonding moments for many seniors. “Sometimes seniors have to wait a little bit before they’re able to get help, and I’ve seen some members helping each other while they wait and that’s really cool,” said Alince. “A lot of times they’ve actually problem-solved before we even get to it, and it’s really amazing to see that kind of mutual help.”

According to Alince, Tech Help is quite popular, with 10 to 12 members attending each session. 

The Yellow Door’s contributions to well-being, however, go beyond its senior members. Many volunteers have found a place of belonging through the organization. 

Gabrielle McLaren, who is currently employed at Concordia University, has been volunteering at the Yellow Door since moving to Montreal for her Master’s degree during the pandemic. She says that the most fulfilling part of volunteering is meeting people from all walks and stages of life. 

“I had a pretty good academic community, but then I realized, I didn't want to only talk to people who were equally entrenched in academia in Montreal,” said McLaren. When a call went out for more people to join the Tuesday afternoon knitting circle a little over a year ago, McLaren began volunteering and has kept coming back ever since.

Kathryn Rieb, a software developer, relates to McLaren’s experience. Upon moving from Victoria, B.C. to Montreal last August, and knowing nobody in town other than her partner, Rieb  wondered how she could immediately become a part of something in this new city. Having enjoyed previous volunteer experiences, a few Google searches led her to join the knitting group at the Yellow Door.

“I really enjoyed having an immediate and accepting community. From the first day I showed up, everyone was so kind, everyone was happy to talk about their projects and share, and it was so easy to become a part of this group,” Rieb said, as she knit a wine-coloured turtleneck.  

McLaren found that a simple activity like knitting can offer much more than just social benefits. “I knit in classes, I knit on the bus, and I get comments like, ‘I could never do that.’ And the answer is, no, you for real could, and it actually is shown to be good for you,” said McLaren. “Textile crafts are good [for maintaining] your cognitive abilities and they have good emotional regulation benefits. It's also cool to do volunteering that is good for you and that is good for the people who are participating.” 

As the winter months approach—a time linked to heightened senior isolation—the Yellow Door continues to organize lively activities like their Nordic walking group on Fridays, and a potential snowshoeing or skiing field trip. They are also marking the holiday season with a fundraising drive, a holiday concert on Dec. 6, and meal deliveries to seniors who are homebound on Dec. 14. 
Alince said they are looking forward to making new community connections and collaborating with organizations doing similar things in order to increase the number of participants and share resources. They have already reached out to Growing A.R.C. Montreal, a non-profit group with a community garden for new summer activities. 

As the pandemic highlighted the need for increased attention to seniors, the Yellow Door’s mission is as vital as ever, as McLaren put it, to “make sure people in [our] community aren’t falling through the cracks.”

Alince gets testimonies of the impacts the Yellow Door makes every day. “It’s amazing to see that that is actually happening with these seniors who are making connections every day, remaining active, and yeah, it’s just good to talk to them about that and be a part of [the Yellow Door’s mission],” they said.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 7, published November 28, 2023.