Building a Social Network for Seniors


The elderly are among the most vulnerable groups in today’s society. Nelson Allan, a generous donor, recognized that there are many seniors dealing with poverty and isolation in Burlington.

He started the Nelson Allan Fund with the Hamilton Community Foundation in 1997 to provide support services to seniors. The fund is focused on supporting those with physical or intellectual disabilities and providing services which help to alleviate caregiver stress.

Nelson was part of the steering committee that started the Burlington Foundation, and, in 2004, requested that the earned income from his Fund be directed to support the Burlington community.

Part of Nelson’s success with his Fund was due to his great passion for reducing isolation in the seniors’ community. His passion was contagious and allowed him to engage and excite others about the cause. A team player who drew on others to assist and enrich the programs he worked with, Nelson’s legacy is continued by the volunteer team that carries on work under his name. 

According to Mary Buzzell, a volunteer with Nelson’s Team, “Nelson always gave of his time generously. While it is important to give financially there is also great value in volunteering one’s time to support vital needs in the Burlington community. He believed that small actions by many people can make a big difference in our community.”

Nelson’s life was focused on supporting others less fortunate than himself. Over the years, this became a philanthropic direction for him. In his later life, his focus was specifically to assist seniors.

His actions began–in a small yet meaningful way–with an idea to assist seniors, by bringing small groups together for regular discussion and nourishment. Nelson believed that people congregating over fellowship and food were nourished with both stimulation and the enjoyable feeling of being together. Nelson sought out others involved with the Foundation of like mind to collaborate with him. Team members Mary Buzzell, daughter Starr Bell, Beatrice McDonough, Veerla Nott and Albert Snow came together to contribute their time.

Nelson’s developing vision centered on the possibility of providing grants from his Fund to isolated seniors–particularly senior males–who are often on their own and miss ongoing, stimulating social contact. With this idea in mind, a pilot project was developed. The project was based on a partnership Acclaim Health, the Burlington Seniors’ Centre and the Burlington Foundation.

Funding arrangements were made through annual earned income from the Nelson Allan Endowment Fund with the Foundation. Winter and spring sessions of recreational programming were provided to ten isolated seniors at the centre.

According to one of Nelson’s Team Members, “The seniors have experienced an improved quality of life, made new acquaintances and look forward to their weekly outings at the centre. Recreation programs help them to gain new skills and reward them with the evidence of their creativity in jewelry making, learning of card games and computer skills as well as participation in current affairs dialogue. The dining is an important part of the program. Healthy, nutritious lunches along with the opportunity to spend time with other seniors is eagerly anticipated and enjoyed.”

Through a generous grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation Nelson’s volunteer team along with volunteers from the City of Burlington and Acclaim Health created a toolkit that shares lessons learned and steps involved in establishing a support program for isolated seniors in your community. The toolkit can be used to raise community awareness about socially isolated seniors as well as identify potential new program providers and partners.

Mary Buzzell also had some final thoughts, “Nelson gave of himself greatly and our community is richer for having known him. Nelson is missed and will be known as one of the great philanthropists of Burlington.”

Nelson Allan passed away in 2008 at the age of 94. His legacy continues thanks to the efforts of enthusiastic Nelson’s Team members. “Nelson made a lasting contribution to people who are all-to-often overlooked.” says Colleen Mulholland, President & CEO, Burlington Foundation. “His generosity, gifts of time and resources, toolkit and passion for seniors is remembered by many in our community.”

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