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Octogenarian happy to volunteer at weekly seniors' drop-in

'You pay a dollar for coffee so if you don’t drink coffee you don’t have to pay anything,' says volunteer
Gerald Carter shuffles a deck during the social drop-in 55+ where he volunteers with support from Stephanie Uren.

With the tea and coffee brewed and available alongside a package of Oreo cookies, the weekly cohort of card players gradually file into an activity room at the active BWG Leisure Centre, even though it’s well ahead of the scheduled 10 a.m. start time.

Five tables each with four chairs are set up, all with a deck of cards. The Tuesday morning gathering is called a seniors’ drop-in, but the activity of choice is euchre.

At age 86, Gerald Carter is happy to pitch in, coming in early to make sure everything is ready and sometimes popping out for cream or other necessities.                     

The 15-year-or-so resident of Bradford has been happily going to the centre for the social drop-in 55+ for coffee with other seniors for many years.

“They wanted something for seniors to go to originally, have a chit chat and that,” explains the former insurance claims manager. “And then we started playing cards, euchre.”

The centre’s activity room initially served as a regular gathering spot and the cards came out twice per week. Then there was a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, of course. And when life started returning to normal, the card games resumed, but now it’s only on Tuesdays.

Carter figures about 18 to 20 people, a good amount of them women, come every week and many are in the 60 to 70 range, making him one of the older ones. But fewer turn up when the golf season resumes. And the cards are shelved during the summer when school’s out, to make space for day camps, he explains.

On this day, three tables are filled, summer is nearing, and the stretching class in the nearby gym hasn’t yet ended. The games have started but there’s always space for more.

Carter happily shows up about an hour before the official 10 a.m. start time. He gets the place ready, makes the coffee and prepares the tea and people usually show up a little early.

“You pay a dollar for coffee so if you don’t drink coffee you don’t have to pay anything,” he chuckles.

The seniors have the room until noon when Carter gathers everything together, tidies and then locks up.

It’s a space where seniors can gather and engage socially, explains Stephanie Uren, of the BWG Leisure Centres’ community services department.

“This program would not be possible without volunteers like Gerry,” says Uren. “He is a kind and welcoming presence in the space and we are so fortunate to have him as a volunteer.”

There is a sense of community in the room, which is celebrated at Christmas time with an annual luncheon. And given all the activities at the centre, those at the drop-in might join another activity or class before or afterward, explains Uren.

Carter was in the British military and adopted an intense physical regime as an adult, which included a lot of running — something he no longer does.

He had a long and fulfilling career in insurance, working all over Canada, often to work on adjustments related to large fires and other situations in which big losses were incurred and advance to a property claims manager and retired just about 30 years ago.

He lost his wife while living in Oshawa and that’s when one of his sons, living in Bradford, suggested he create his own unit in his house.

Carter quickly became acclimatized to his new surroundings and gravitated to the centre as a fitness member when it opened a dozen years ago. He recalls taking his young grandson to the childminding room while he worked out.

Carter quickly became involved as a volunteer, transitioning to the gatherings for the 55-year-plus group where he found friends and connections in his hometown.

“It worked out pretty good,” he grins.