Charitable Choices: Kaitlin Fahey, Executive Director of The Yellow Door (YD)

The Yellow Door (YD) is a registered charity that works to promote the social inclusion and holistic well-being of vulnerable seniors and youth living in and around downtown Montreal. We spoke with Kaitlin Fahey, Executive Director of The Yellow Door, to learn more about what they do.

The Yellow Door (YD)

What problem does the charity/non-profit aim to solve?

As highlighted during the pandemic, many Canadians suffer from social isolation and loneliness. Seniors are particularly vulnerable, given their increased likelihood of living alone and experiencing health issues, loss of autonomy and/or reduced mobility. In Montreal, over one-third (35%) of seniors live alone (the highest proportion among major Canadian cities). A lack of financial resources is another major risk factor among seniors, with Montreal ranking highest in the proportion of seniors living under the low-income cut-off. At the same time, a growing number of young adults report feelings of loneliness and social isolation (nearly 70% in universities), and there are rising rates of reported mental health issues on university campuses. Social isolation and loneliness are consistently linked to poor mental and physical health outcomes, such as depression, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality.

Downtown Montreal represents a unique convergence of student-aged and senior populations, as well as a scarcity of accessible public spaces and affordable wellness-oriented initiatives make it difficult to bring people together. The Yellow Door offers accessible public spaces, free services, and health-promoting activities designed to combat social isolation and ageism by facilitating the creation of an intergenerational community. We serve vulnerable, yet engaging and resilient, seniors- most of whom are over age 70 (86%), live alone (72%), and live on a fixed income (80%). The majority of our senior members are referred to us through the local health network. Through our programs, we help foster interpersonal relationships that offer mutual benefits, reduce social isolation and loneliness, improve physical and mental well-being, connect people, and increase compassion across generations.

When did you start/join it?

I’ve served as the Executive Director since 2018. The Yellow Door, however, has existed in one form or another for much, much longer! We recently found an annual report at the office from 1897 – and it was the 13th edition (!) meaning that the original organization was possibly founded around 1884. Over the decades the mission and programs have changed to adapt to the needs of the community around it. We have been at our current location on Aylmer since the 1940s and our work pairing isolated seniors with volunteers for home-based services started in 1972- making our Generations Program 50 years old this year. It’s incredible to think about just how many lives this organization has touched over the past century!

The Yellow Door (YD)
Photo by: A. Cunties

What was the situation like when you started? How has it changed since?

The YD has gone through many positive changes in recent years. Most notably, we have diversified our funding sources and thus have been able to launch new initiatives for the community. For example, in response to seniors’ needs during the pandemic, we added a Tech Café where seniors can bring their device (phone, tablet, laptop) and receive one-on-one help or participate in group tech workshops thanks to the New Horizons for Seniors Program. We run the café with the Atwater Library- a wonderful resource for the community. The space is about building seniors’ digital literacy and autonomy – our volunteers are great at explaining things in a way and at a pace that seniors understand and can replicate on their own. Everyone is welcome- we run the café twice per month at 3590 Jeanne-Mance!

What more needs to be done?

With a core staff of 5 individuals and 3 support roles, we rely heavily on volunteers to carry out our mission in the community. Last year we supported 232 senior members with life at home, and over 2,000 participants took part in our wellness groups. To achieve this, our volunteers dedicated more than 21,000 hours in 2021 carrying our programs and services in the community. We recently expanded our service area to assist underserved seniors living in the areas of Little Portugal and the Old Port – which has led to an increase in referrals from the local CIUSSS. At the same time, volunteer numbers are down – a common problem with many community groups – and so we are left with a list of seniors waiting to be matched with volunteers.

How can our readers help?

We need dedicated individuals that can commit to 2 hours per week over a period of at least 4 months. You will be matched with a senior to offer IT help, make a weekly friendly phone call, run errands, and/or accompany them to medical appointments. Interested readers can complete the volunteer application found here on our website. Additionally, if you are, or know of, a senior living in our downtown service area, do not hesitate to reach out to us at (514) 845-2600. Please leave a message and we will call you back!

Do you have any events coming up?

Yes! Every December we host a holiday dinner and concert for our senior members. While the holidays are a time to be with family and friends, it can be a lonely time for isolated seniors whose families live away or who lack the financial means to celebrate. We work with local businesses to provide a hearty meal and a festive concert, in the hope of spreading a little holiday cheer throughout our community. If you are interested in learning more or supporting this event, please see our website or follow us on social media!

Where can we follow you?

You can follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and read more about our work on our website, a good place to start might be our 2021-2022 Annual Report.

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

La Sams! They are an organization that provides affordable musical performances to seniors’ residences, rehabilitation centres, mental health institutes, etc. We recently hosted musicians from La Sams at our 55+ Community Hour and they were a hit! Since our members enjoyed the music so much, we have hired them again for our holiday concert. Find out more here.