Inspiration through Education at Erin Meadows

New resident David Kent rediscovers his roots as a teacher

By Kristian Partington

David Kent is an educator. He made a life out of shaping the minds of young men and women as a high school teacher specializing in health and physical education, and Canadian history. He retired from that profession in 1995, then taught night school for a few years before putting that aside.

For someone with an obvious passion for teaching, it might seem strange to learn that he retired while still in his 50s, but then you must consider that he was diagnosed with a degenerative muscle wasting disease called Inclusion Body Myositis 20 years prior to that. Today, at the age of 76, he’s been living with the disease for 39 years, as long as any body ever has in Canada, he says.

David always figured his background in health and alternative medicine would serve him well as he coped with the progressive weakness brought on by the disease, and he’d be able to live independently for many years. This past summer, however, he experienced some “physical complications,” as he puts it, leading him to seek a long-term care home where he could get the support he needs.

In August he found himself at the Village of Erin Meadows, the first choice he and his family had. They were drawn to the concept of Main Street, he says; it was different than other places and he thought the possibilities there seemed interesting.

“When we arrived, I must say that’s when the shock took place,” he recalls. He wasn’t prepared for the range in challenges faced by his neighbours, and he also needed time to adjust to his own new reality.

“I was kind of lost there for two or three weeks,” he says. “It took me three weeks to get my act together, to challenge myself.” He began attending the many different activities and functions hosted at the village and soon found that despite the challenges and deficiencies he perceived in his fellow residents, they still had much to offer.

“A 98-year-old beat me at shuffle board,” he says with a chuckle, and a 93-year-old beat me at scrabble, so I was humbled very quickly.”

It was during one of the activities organized by recreation team member Larysa Mikhnevych focused on world travel that David felt inspired to offer some of his experience through an education series focused on Canada. With Larysa’s support, the Canada Pride seminars began, with the first session focused on Canada’s famous Group of Seven artists. The seminar inspired a trip to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, a gallery in Kleinburg featuring more than 6,000 works by Group of Seven artists and their contemporaries. 

Residents sitting and facing a piece of art on the wall as a speaker next to the art addresses the group
Erin Meadows residents visit the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

The Canada Pride series is now a monthly feature on the recreation calendar at the village, and other seminars focused on nature, art and Olympic competition are in the works. David says the opportunity to offer his knowledge in partnership with others at the village has rejuvenated his spirit in ways he never imagined.

“These connections that I have made have energized me to a level that I have not seen for 19 years,” he says. “I am in the unique position of being a teacher and also being a resident. This experience, after four-and-a-half months, has challenged me and changed me. I am a new person.”

Larysa has watched these connections flourish over the past few months and indeed, been a deep part of them. It’s exactly what she and her fellow team members at the village aspire to every day, she says.

“We are always looking for opportunities to implement programs which will be very interesting for our residents and in this case, to empower residents to enjoy their lives and to give them opportunities to continue what they used to do in their lifetime,” she says. David’s gift for knowledge translation and public speaking make him a natural fit for this type of service to his neighbours, and there is now a small team of researchers helping to co-ordinate the seminars.

“My mind is full of ideas and most of all, I have inner peace that gives me great joy,” David says.

Larysa and David want to offer their sincere gratitude to recreation director Sami Kermani and general manager Anneliese Kreuger for the support they’ve offered. As soon as the wishes of residents to see the Group of Seven paintings were expressed, the trip was being organized, and for that they are grateful.