Arthritis Society ending on its own terms

The Cowichan Valley Arthritis Society will disband after its June meeting, ending almost 30 years of helping residents

The Cowichan Valley Arthritis Society will disband after its June meeting, ending almost 30 years of helping residents deal with various aspects of the disease.

“Our last meeting is June 6, and after that date we will shut down,” said Jan Norwood, CVAS community liaison.

“We don’t have an office. We operate out of our homes and our monthly meetings are held at St. John’s Anglican Church hall, which is located at First and Jubilee in Duncan.”

They don’t have an office to maintain, but feel it’s time to close up shop nonetheless.

“There are a number of reasons. One of them is changing times and changing technologies. I think a lot of people today get their information from other places, they go on the Internet at home or at the library. A lot of our members are older and are not computer literate but as time goes on that will not be the case. More and more people will get their information online.”

There is no doubt that time is catching up with the CVAS.

“We’re an aging group,” Norwood said. “We did a study of our membership quite a few years ago and the median age then was 73. Our members are mostly women, mostly elderly.

“We usually have 30-40 people at a meeting,” she said. “We also have a speaker but it’s not always about arthritis or even disease. It’s often something that’s of interest to seniors, like the Safe Seniors Program that Community Policy has been running.”

Another reason for the dropping CVAS membership is that the group meets during the day, so people who work may not be able to attend. Changing to an evening time slot would be difficult, however, because many seniors don’t like to go out at night.

“But that’s not the only reason,” Norwood said.

“It’s also getting more and more difficult to find volunteers to do the work. Our executive has been around a long time. I’m the new kid on the block and I’ve been on the executive for 10 years. There are some people who have been on the executive for 20 years. Our treasurer has been there forever and it’s a big job. It’s just not fair to have the same people doing the work over and over and over.

“But, I think that’s the same problem with a lot of volunteer groups. It’s hard to get people; it often turns out to be the same people across organizations doing the work. So, that’s another reason we’re closing down.”

On top of that, costs are up, as they are everywhere.

“We meet 10 times a year; we take two months off in the summer. St. John ‘s gives us a fantastic rate but we rent the church 10 times a year. It’s a good deal, but it’s still $100 a month, especially when your membership is $15 a year, and we’ve put that up from $10. We’re just not bringing in enough money to be able to pay the rent.”

The Arthritis Society has been operating for a number of years on money that was raised a long time ago and invested.

“There were years some time ago when we were quite flush. We used to get support from the United Way but, because we had money and others didn’t, we were cut from the United Way. We’ve been drawing down on our resources and at some point in the near future we will run out of money.”

And because of that, the group has decided “we would prefer to exit on our own timeline rather than finding out we can’t pay the rent next month and having to tell the church we won’t be there. We thought it was better to close down while we still could and still have some money left in the bank, which we will donate to the Arthritis Society.”

Norwood does not expect to see fresh volunteers step up to continue the group. It started in the 1980s.

“There were some very committed women who made this happen and who grew the organization, taking it from a small group of people meeting in a room at the hospital to actually renting the hall and arranging for speakers.”

That aspect is a big job, she said.

“Getting the speakers to come is getting harder to do…it’s a difficult job to make all those arrangements, especially when it’s all volunteers.”

The final June meeting should be great, she said.

“That one will be for members and invited guests only, as the June Social always is. It’s a potluck lunch. At first our lunches were open but then all kinds of people started coming for the lunch and not bringing anything.”

She said that the fellowship after the meetings, the chance to sit and talk over a cup of coffee, is an important part of life for the group’s elderly members.

“This is an outing for them. They get dressed up, they wear their hats, they come to the church. This is a safe place to go during the day and enjoy the company. People with mobility issues tend to become very isolated.”

CVAS will not be charging membership fees this year, and will not be fundraising as the group winds down, Norwood said.

The loss of the Cowichan Valley Seniors Resource Centre and the Valley’s Multiple Sclerosis office have been significant and this will be one more closure, but times are indeed changing for CVAS, she said.

CVAS still holds meetings on the first Monday of every month until June. The next session is on March 7 at 1 p.m. at St. John’s Anglican Church.