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As more and more of public life moves online, one group is increasingly at risk of being left behind: seniors. At the same time, this age group is consistently one of the most active and civically engaged demographics. Seniors want to be involved. But their analogue lifestyles are sometimes at odds with our digital future. How do you bridge that divide?

For Svetlana Pavlenko, the answer may just lie in a two-storey brick building off Jasper Avenue. That’s the headquarters of the JDIC Seniors’ Centre, a non-profit organization that helps senior citizens stay connected to the city around them. As executive director, Svetlana handles the centre’s day-to-day operations, which include regular meals, cross-cultural events, public speakers and even organized trips to the opera and symphony. “We’re trying to be not just a seniors’ centre,” she says. “We’re trying to be a community hub.”

Svetlanko believes that, at its core, public engagement is about breaking down stereotypes. That’s the same approach she follows at the centre, which, despite having the word “Jewish” in its full name, opens its doors to everyone in the community — not just people of other faiths, but other ages, too. “We’re trying to establish a connection across generations,” she says.

In 2014, the centre published a cookbook based on some of the traditional cultural dishes that members had prepared over the years. Svetlanko remembers one woman purchasing a copy, and giving it to her sister in the United States. The sister, in turn, showed it to her grandson, who was in his early 20s, and the two of them cooked a meal together — after which the grandson was so impressed, he asked if he might be able to keep the cookbook for himself.

Not long afterwards, the original customer came back to the JDIC Seniors’ Centre. She bought two more copies.

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