In the late 1970’s, a group of local families sought ways their young adult children could learn to live fulfilling and independent lives despite physical disabilities. The result: False Creek Residence on Forge Walk. Moving in as young adults, many of the current 24 residents are now in their late 50s and beyond, aging in place within the original philosophy of a home-like family atmosphere.

Funded by Vancouver Coastal Health and a variety of donors and partners, the care facility is now operated by RILS – the Residences for Independent Living Society. (A second RILS site was opened in Richmond in 2001.) The 10-person Board works with the Executive Director to manage the facility, staff, volunteers, fundraising and programming. Noting that it’s rare for a facility of this size to care for adults with the breadth of physical challenges represented here, Vice Chair Richard Stout says, “It’s a balancing act to meet the complex requirements of our various communities without too much structure or limitation.”

Receiving 24-hour care, residents enjoy shared meals, a recreation lounge and lots of activities. Staff and volunteers can number over 100 and provide all kinds of active programs for keeping fit, getting out into the community, going on trips, and living as independently as possible. These include, as the weekly timetable shows, art, yoga, music, games, exercise classes and assistance with computer communications. Each month a theme is chosen for arts and crafts — Valentine’s Day in February, St. Patrick’s Day in March and so on throughout the year. Residents celebrate their birthdays by choosing 2 or 3 people to join them at a restaurant or for a celebration activity. Most activities are led by the Recreation Assistant with others by volunteers who also have a weekly schedule of one-to-one time with residents, developing close relationships over time. Several outings each week include shopping, haircuts, coffee, swimming and visits to Science World and other locations. Residents are particularly proud of their 33 years of taking part in the annual Sun Run, beginning in 1987 when Rick Hanson participated as part of his “Man in Motion” tour.

Until mid-March of this year, Recreation Therapist and Volunteer Coordinator Madison Richards spent most of her time planning and scheduling these activities for volunteers and residents. But given the pandemic, she now says that “my job has flipped. It’s all hands on deck since none of the families or volunteers have been allowed in the house. I’m in the dining room helping to serve breakfast and lunch, for example, and doing as much as possible to keep activities going. I’ve had to get very creative!”

Madison is now assisting residents with social distancing, ensuring groups of no more than 8 in the dining room for meals and activities. She also facilitates Zoom calls to maintain connections with family members and volunteers, and provides activities where residents can come together in a different setting than usual. One activity they have especially enjoyed is what she calls “Shake Loose a Memory”. Residents respond to a question they pull from the box with the memory it evokes. To assist with relaxation, she has also introduced guided visualization and mindfulness sessions. “Motivation is low for some residents”, she admits; “there’s no doubt about it, while others are signing up for everything, keeping busy as a way of coping with the isolation.”

Residents have always loved living in this special neighbourhood that allows them safe access to many areas and activities. One person says, “I like living at False Creek Residence because if I wasn’t here, I would be in an old age home. I wouldn’t have met all the friends I have. I love meeting the volunteers and spending time with them. They treat me like a person, and then we become friends.”