Debbie Dunwell has closed a chapter in her ongoing efforts to support local seniors, but she’s definitely not turning her back on them.
The founder and executive director of Okotoks-based Simply Compassion Advocacy Society said the non-profit ceased operations at the end of May. Dunwell said the difficult decision was made in concert with the group’s board of directors after extensive efforts to engage those involved in seniors care proved to be too much of a challenge.
With significant experience in caring for the elderly in a variety of settings, Dunwell launched the non-profit which received its charitable status in 2019. Over the years, it’s undertaken multiple initiatives to improve seniors’ lives, including a visitation program, workshops and even the distribution of Christmas gifts.
As much as it’s received support in some areas, it’s been exceedingly difficult to make inroads in others, prompting Dunwell and the board to shutter the society.
“I'm very grateful we were able to do what we were able to do and maybe it's not exactly where I planned it to be, where we are now, but there's still a lot of really good things that came out of this,” she said. “So, I guess I would say it's disappointing, but it's not all negative.”
Dunwell said when she left her most recent job at a care facility, she made a promise to those seniors that she would do what she could to address issues that plagued them and others in similar circumstances.
“I had seen a lot of things that were quite distressing so I made the promise that I would do whatever it took," she said. "I tried a bunch of different avenues and it ended up becoming a non-profit because the other avenues, like writing letters to the government, like writing letters to the facility, got nowhere, got no response.”
Dunwell said she developed workshops tailored to different groups that shared simple, low-cost measures to improve the lives of seniors but found there weren’t many takers for the free sessions. A peer support group never got off the ground either.
“My goal was always to bring about change into senior care because I saw lots of abuses and neglect, but I saw some really simple ways that we could change it and it could be sustainable,” she said. “It was really simple things like getting to know people by doing life stories so that activities looked different.
“It wasn't all about just beds and money and hiring more staff. It was better education for the staff.”
Dunwell said Simply Compassion became a bigger undertaking than she had ever imagined, adding the multitude of projects stretched the society’s human resources, while a lack of marketing expertise also plagued the non-profit.
She said her goal going in was to improve the way seniors are cared for, to change the culture that has persisted for years.
“I mean, it's a huge cultural problem that's developed over years and years, and I went into it hoping I could change this culture around how we don't value our seniors and I don't feel like I've stopped," she said.
“I don't feel like it's never going to change it, just the way I'm doing it right now is going to change and then I'm going to look at different avenues and hook up with different people to try and still bring about this change.”
Dunwell said after a bit of a break she will refocus her efforts on the workshops she believes can much such a difference.
“If we all just knew a little bit more about it, we could all do a little bit better for our seniors,” she said.