Nearly a dozen Surrey seniors are debuting a slightly saucy side of themselves this fall – stepping out of their comfort zones and onto the pages of a 2024 pin-up calendar.
A project that came to life through connections made by participants in the Surrey Shares storytelling program – developed with a goal of connecting and guiding Surrey residents aged 55 and older in identifying and achieving some personal goals – the calendar features images of the seniors in and around vintage cars, adorned in everything ’50s, from clothing, to hair and makeup.
The theme was inspired by pin-up photos shared by program co-ordinator and life coach Jessika Houston, during a meeting of the group’s social-activities committee. Houston, noting she has “always loved the ’50s,” has done pin-up modelling for the past five years.
“I was showing a few of them some pictures one day, and a few of them just said, ‘Why don’t we do a pin-up shoot? We want to do that,’” Houston said.
Using outfits from Houston’s own collection, the seniors got dolled up and posed with vehicles ranging from a pickup truck to a VW bug.
Pin-up, Houston noted, is all about confidence and exuding acceptance of yourself. For the seniors, the transformation was a sight to behold, clearly reaching far deeper than the surface.
“Just seeing their faces when they came in, and seeing them look at their picture (afterwards) on the camera was like, unbelievable,” said Houston.
“They were tearing up and just so proud… and a lot of shock. People were surprised that they could pull it off. There was one person that even did a bathing suit… and she’s close to 80. I was like, ‘You go, girl!’ And she looks great, she looks like Marilyn.”
Initially planned by the seniors as a fun photo-shoot activity, the pin-up session evolved into something more at the suggestion of program participant Judy Higginbotham. The former longtime City of Surrey councillor “wanted to turn it into something philanthropic,” Houston explained.
“So originally, we were just doing it for fun, but now the calendars are going to be $25 and every time somebody buys one, there’s $6 that will go towards keeping Surrey Shares – the program – alive.”
First launched in 2020 with funding from the federal government’s New Horizons for Seniors Program, Surrey Shares, hosted by UNITI, is an initiative of the Surrey Intercultural Seniors Social Inclusion Partnership Network. Participants work with a life coach and a speaking coach, ultimately recording a personally meaningful story on video.
With funding running out in March 2024, just two more eight-week cohorts are currently on the schedule: one that begins Oct. 2 and another that begins in January.
Higginbotham – who posed for the calendar in a vintage-style bathing suit that she purchased a few years ago – took the course some 18 months ago. She described working with a life coach as an opportunity to “try and figure out where you’re going, what areas maybe you could fix and what was possible that you could do, and what your strengths are.”
While the process of aging can make some people doubt their abilities and sometimes even their own usefulness, the course was a reminder that not only does everyone have a story to tell, but that possibilities and potential abound at every age and stage, she said.
“This kind of made everybody think, ‘Gee, I can still do all those things. There’s certain things that I can do and I will continue to do them,’” said Higginbotham, now 80.
“And it gave the strength to do that, and sort of the guts to go out and put a bathing suit on and have your photograph taken.”
The connections formed through the program have also been priceless, she added. While at times it can seem easier to just stay home and cocoon, maintaining a social network throughout life is both important and positive.
“Everybody doesn’t need ‘help.’ Everybody needs connection,” she said.
Houston said the program “100 per cent” made a difference in the lives of participants. For some, it brought them out of the isolation that so many people struggled with during the COVID-19 pandemic. In one woman’s case, it connected the newcomer to a circle of people who immediately offered to help when she – during one of the group’s social outings – expressed concern about how she would manage following an upcoming knee surgery.
Houston said she listened as fellow Surrey Shares members “all took her phone number and took turns.”
“I’m tearing up… because I’m thinking, what a difference that’s made in her life.”
So far, around 70 people have been through the program. Anyone interested in participating in an upcoming cohort, or looking for more information, may visit https://seniorssocialinclusion.ca/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The pin-up calendar is just one initiative that’s hoped to help the program continue. Part proceeds from sales of an anthology of participants’ stories will also benefit the cause.
The book, in the works for about 18 months and due for release in October, features 27 stories; most from Surrey Shares participants, plus a couple from community members including UNITI’s chief executive officer, Doug Tennant.
For information about the book launch, or about ordering a book or calendar, email email@example.com