A Caring Oasis

By Doreen Marion Gee

James Bay New Horizons Activity Centre is a community treasure with strong roots in our waterfront village. It offers an incredible array of services and programs to seniors, adults and groups. Singing its praises is Helen Ruttan, a long time volunteer, who sees it as a caring environment. And the “New” horizon for Ruttan is a facility that serves a much broader community.

As we both nestle into the comfy couch pillows, I can smell the wonderful earthy aroma of cut grass outside the open window. James Bay New Horizons is always a welcoming and warm place to relax. With a wide smile and kind manner, Helen Ruttan talks about the place she loves. She has been volunteering for five years at the center and has just been appointed President.

Ruttan comments on the fascinating history of New Horizons, noting that everything started back in the seventies. A galvanized community and government funding resulted in a new revitalized James Bay. Part of that was the formation of New Horizons, which officially opened on December 14, 1976. According to Walt Frazer in The James Bay New Horizons Story ( 1973 – 1984 ) , “ New Horizons is a unique program developed by the Department of National Health and Welfare to encourage and enable retired Canadians to become more actively involved in the life of their community.”

“We offer a lot of programs !” exclaims Ruttan as she talks excitedly about the services at New Horizons. These goodies that make life more enjoyable and fulfill important needs all require a paid membership ( $35 a year.) Ruttan says that they have an excellent acupressure massage therapist for members ( with a small fee ) and she is thrilled about the dancing and Spanish programs in the Fall. At that time, there will also be a program of computer classes to pump your brain cells. You can pamper yourself with a manicure this summer for only $10 ! Members can access pro bono legal services. There is a blood pressure clinic and free services for the hearing impaired. The only program that does not require a membership is the wildly popular “ Active Seniors Enjoying Life”, provided free of charge. This is a fun – filled exercise program where you can work out of a chair or any way you want. Offered by Beckley Farm Lodge all year long, it comes to New Horizons on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For a faster pace, the 'Saturday Feelin' Fit' exercise program may be more your cup of tea.

Throughout the summer New Horizons offers Bridge and other card games for about $2 a pop. Come and join the ' Handicraft Ladies' to showcase your talents. 'Movie and Popcorn Days' are a great way to relax. Their Summer Special Events include ' Over 80's Tea' , 'An Afternoon in Mexico' and 'An Afternoon in Italy', amongst others. A stimulating and entertaining program is their excursions out of town. Ruttan says that they are planning a trip to Alert Bay and Granville Market in Vancouver . Trips to Chemainus for Dinner and Theatre evenings always feed the soul. There are exciting new groups for the Fall, such as ' Stained Glass Making' and ' Beading.'

New Horizons also rents out its space to groups within the community and every year they host different events from business meetings to family gatherings to recitals.

It is the personal touch that makes New Horizons special. Staff will send a card to anyone who is sick, in hospital or suffering a loss. Ruttan is proud of their services to help members with income tax or government forms. Their free ' Senior Reassurance ' program extends a caring ear where volunteers call seniors in the Greater Victoria area each weekday to check that they are okay. Non – senior adults with disabilities can also receive this service. Ruttan says “ There is always someone here for somebody else.” When people need to talk, staff listen.

Ruttan wants the community to know that “all ages are welcome here !” There is no age limit at New Horizons. In fact, Ruttan wants fresh ideas from a bigger section of James Bay that includes young and old. New Horizons is primarily for seniors but Ruttan feels that many of their programs would also appeal to the thirty and forty year old crowd.

New Horizons has about 600 members and 60 volunteers. But they can always use more, according to Ruttan. She heartily encourages people to ' come on down.' If someone is shy, Ruttan “ will grab their arm and take them inside.” She says that people can contact her directly through the front desk if they are nervous about coming in. She also wants low income individuals to know that they can use the Leisure Involvement for Everyone Program to pay for a membership and provide credits to take classes. The hard work of volunteers make the excellent programs at New Horizons possible. Ruttan encourages people to join and to volunteer. They also need people to teach their classes.

When I ask Helen Ruttan what New Horizons means to her, she responds warmly : “ We Care.” That's their secret to success. This is a place that people can retreat to, sit down and be with friends.

Contact : 234 Menzies Street
Tel ( 250 ) 386 – 3035, see Spring/09 Guide.
Website :

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