With a population of about 10,000 people, Nelson, British Columbia, is a very dynamic community. Although it’s a place that many associate with adventure sports, arts, and culture, there is also a large ageing population with varied needs for additional supports. The community is built into the side of a mountain, which makes it challenging to get around, especially during winter. For those with specialized needs, transportation to separate hospitals for medical services can be a barrier to accessing care, particularly for those living more rurally or remotely.
Volunteers of the Kalein Centre’s Working Circle came together to support those who may be facing challenges to accessing the healthcare and resources they need for a good quality of life by introducing the Nav-CARE program. Nav-CARE (Navigation-Connecting, Advocating, Resourcing, and Engaging) is a volunteer navigation program that seeks to improve the quality of life of persons living with serious illness or declining health, and is currently being implemented across Canada.
Erin Thompson has worked for the past two and a half years as the Nav-CARE Program Manager at the Kalein Centre, a non-profit organization in Nelson, building out the program so that it can be sustainable long term. What started in Nelson has now expanded to a regional program due to community engagement and success within the program itself. “It’s been really exciting to see the growth and the community response,” says Thompson.
Thompson was 19 when her mother became ill, which is what ultimately brought her to Nelson. Making the move allowed her to take care of her mother in the last years of her life and truly opened her eyes to the experiences of the ageing population in Nelson. While she was taking care of her mother, she noticed some gaps in the system, “I found that there were a lot of supports available right at the end of her life, but that there wasn’t really anything that supported her for the living part,” states Thompson.
Since she was young and physically able, Thompson was surprised by how challenging it was to be a caregiver, physically, emotionally and spiritually. “I know way more about the services that are available now. To be honest, I was too overwhelmed just trying to cover both of our basic needs, and I was frustrated by my searches to find programs with services we needed that my mom was also eligible for.” After her mother passed, Thompson saw a posting for the Nav-CARE Program Manager position at the Kalein Centre, and applied immediately.
“I was like, this is exactly what I would have wanted. And I wish that would have been around when my mom was alive, but I felt really called to be involved because I knew intimately and personally the value that this kind of a program could provide. I felt really strongly that it was something that I wanted to exist in our community. And, in some ways, it does feel like a connection to the legacy of my mom in this time of my life. To be able to share that with the community and to be able to support other people in that way that feels really beautiful to me,” says Thompson.
Over the past couple of years, Thompson has seen firsthand just how important Nav-CARE can be for those in need. “The tangible impacts that we can make on the lives of the people that come into our program is hands down the most important element,” says Thompson. As for her experience as the Program Manager, Thompson witnessed a lot of personal growth in herself, her staff, and her volunteers alike. “I’m really grateful for the amazing staff team that I’ve been able to put together this year. All of this growth would not be possible without our incredible volunteers and having some really talented women who have stepped forward to help lead the program,” says Thompson.
For those interested in volunteering through Nav-CARE, Thompson encourages it for any age or gender: “It seems to me that it often is women in this kind of work, but I would reach out to the men and say, there is a lot to be gained in this too. Sometimes it can be hard to find a match for a client who wants some guy time.” Through the Nav-CARE program and her work at the Kalein Centre, Thompson is grateful to be able to give back to her community, all with her mother at the center of her purpose.