by Chris Tiessen

Bridge. The. Gap. Three seemingly ineffectual words. And yet, for Guelph Y Wellness Co-ordinator Chris Seftel, they’re powerful words that – when placed together – serve as a profound mantra that drives Chris’ every day at the Guelph Y. Bridging the gap.

‘It’s what our Wellness Programs are all about,’ Chris notes as we chat together in what’s best described as a highly-customizable exercise room adjacent to the facility’s gymnasium (where little kids run and play and laugh in some sort of beautiful organized chaos). Around us several Guelph Y Members with complex health and mobility challenges – including multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, stroke, low mobility, dementia and various other neurological conditions – are being helped through a myriad  of rehabilitation exercises by a small army of Guelph Y staff and volunteers.

‘Our Programs are designed to bridge the real health care gap between hospital rehabilitation programs and available community resources,’ Chris observes. Rehabilitation programs like those offered at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph. ‘We serve patients who, having arrived at the end of intensive wellness programming, need transitional support while they move from rehab to maintaining exercise in a community setting.’ The beauty of the Guelph Y Program is that it’s been – and continues to be – developed as an effective solution to real challenges facing a significant number of area residents.

Local numbers are vague, but consider these national statistics: in Canada, 50,000 strokes occur each year while almost half a million Canadians live with the effects of stroke. Moreover, Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world, with an estimated 100,000 Canadians living with the disease. And more than 100,000 Canadians are living with Parkinson’s. It was Dr. Wayne Lew of St. Joe’s who initially approached Chris about how the Guelph Y might help those individuals whose term at St. Joe’s had ended but who still needed regular specialized rehabilitation and exercise programming. And it’s Dr. Lew, as well as the University of Guelph, who supports the design and implementation of Guelph Y’s Wellness Programming.

While Chris and I continue to chat, a half dozen or so volunteers move around the room, helping Guelph Y staff and Program participants. ‘They’re University of Guelph students – mostly from Human Kinetics  and Neuroscience,’ Chris says. ‘An awesome aspect of our Wellness Program is that we work closely with the University,’ he continues, ‘and specifically with Dr. Laurie Vallis, whose students volunteer here every semester. They gain vital hands-on experience and the Y gains invaluable volunteers! Meanwhile, Dr. Vallis herself helps with program development – including everything from P.A.C.E (Parkinson’s Assisted Cycle Exercise) to K.E.E.S (Kinesthetic Everyday Exercise for Seniors) .Our most recent venture is with University of Waterloo and Dr. Monica Maly. We are working on implementing her prescribed  Yoga program which targets individuals with Arthritis. Which means that our programs are grounded in research and developed as protocols that are repeatable across institutions.’

Bridging the gap. Words that Chris lives by. Words that have been put into action at the Guelph Y, where it’s apparent that a variety of gaps are being bridged by individuals committed to good will and collaboration, imagination and research expertise, opportunity and engagement.