WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Bernadette Swan is elected into the Community Service Hall of Fame.
Bernadette Swan's life motto is, "You get nothing by sitting around letting the world go by. You have to be part of it."
Swan has lived up to her motto through her decades of work as an advocate for low-income seniors.
"It is very rewarding for me. I recall, since my early teens in Guyana, I developed an interest in going to seniors and being with them, especially seniors who lived alone, and visiting with them. When I left their homes, I really felt like I had accomplished something."
Swan would even visit the homes of Portuguese-speaking seniors who did not speak English. While they could not understand each other, they still enjoyed each other's presence.
"From those days I've always had it in my mind that I need to be of service to older people. That has been with me for all these years. Now in Canada I am focused on serving seniors," she said.
Swan was honoured by the City of Edmonton for her contributions to the diverse fabric of the community by being elected into the Salute to Excellence Community Service Hall of Fame. The 62nd annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held June 18 at the Francis Winspear Centre for Music.
Since leaving Guyana and making Canada her home in 1963 and eventually Edmonton in 1979, she has displayed leadership, excelling in whatever she tries. Swan has been guided by her philosophy that life is all about learning, adventure and caring about community.
"I work with low-income seniors because they have more needs than other seniors who are in a better position to pay their expenses," said Swan.
Swan has a master of theological studies degree from Newman Theological College and is a member of St. John Bosco Parish.
In 1998, she mobilized a project to provide social care for the elderly through the Bernadette N. Swan Social Care Foundation, which has remained active ever since in providing care for seniors in eight categories: community liaison, resource information and education programs, social issues, health and wellness, computer training, advocacy and referral services, drop-in activities and seniors cultural expression.
"We just completed another program where seniors gave their testimonials about their life experiences. It was a very worthwhile endeavour because seniors were able to get together and share their histories," she said.
Swan makes it possible for seniors to improve on their knowledge and to use their knowledge in productive ways. Seniors without computer know-how, for example, miss out on a lot of valuable opportunities, so she makes sure that they are equipped with the understanding to excel in the computer age.
"I also encourage the seniors to embrace active and healthy lives, which reduces their risk of social isolation. We know that isolation is never good. The more you're out there in the community, the more active you are, the better it is for your overall life and to cope with difficult situations," she said.
Referring to her service to seniors as a "lifelong calling from above," Swan is a graduate of the Edmonton Archdiocese's JustFaith program.
JustFaith is an intensive 24-week program for people who want to learn about the social teaching of the Catholic Church. The program's primary focus is on domestic and global poverty.
"JustFaith changes people," she said. "Those people change the world.
"It was an extensive, conversion-based process that provides a context in which participants can grow in their commitment to care for the vulnerable, and to become advocates for a more just society."
Her participation in the JustFaith program energized her to feel comfortable in helping vulnerable seniors.
Swan was also a founding member and program director of the Black Women's Association of Alberta. She has led numerous initiatives addressing problems of black women in Canada. She helped open the first library west of Ottawa that specialized in the literature and history of black people, as well as establishing a mini-archive of materials about black pioneers.
In 2006 she established the annual Grandparents Award of Distinction, which includes a gala, banquet and silent auction. Grandchildren nominate their own grandparents for this prestigious award.
"Its purpose is to celebrate the importance of grandparents' role in the intergenerational relationships to family and to community," she explained.
She is inclined to do what she does for seniors because researchers forecast that by 2040, the number of seniors in Edmonton over 80 years old will increase by 255 per cent.
"Also, the number of people, aged 55 to 64, is expected to double during that time. With that type of statistic, we will need seniors housing. It is better to prepare now to prevent a great calamity when these statistics become a reality," she said.
She was inspired by her parents, Cletus and Mildred Swan. They gave their eight children a devout Catholic upbringing and seldom missed Sunday Mass.
"People used to say that the church bell couldn't ring fast enough - the Swans are in the church."
Other prevailing influences were her late husband Frederick Gordon Sadool, who instilled in her the art of writing project applications, Dr. Juanita Chambers and Mary Burlie who shared a love for humanity and a faith that we could do better.
Burlie was a family and adult support worker for the Boyle Street Co-op from 1973 to 1995. She invited street people to her home for holiday suppers, and if they were homeless, she would let them stay in her backyard in the summer.
"Mary had a love for people and heart for the poor. Mary instilled in me compassion for humanity. It is these inspirational people who have inspired me to accomplish what I have in my life," said Swan.