Sidney Finkelstein (left) in front of the North York YMCA on December 2, 2020, collecting food for the month-long food and clothing drive.

According to Statistics Canada, there are more older Canadians in the labour force now than in the mid-1990s. From 1996 to 2018, the proportion of workers aged 55 and older almost doubled, from 10% to 21% of the workforce.

Forbes magazine says companies stand to benefit greatly from having older adults on their team. According to Forbes, older adults offer employers many skills and attributes that grow and develop with age including loyalty and stability, superb decision-making, confidence, management, leadership, and communication skills, as well as empathy.

At the YMCA of Greater Toronto, we know firsthand how beneficial it is to have older adults on our team. We are lucky to have older members, employees and volunteers that make up our community. One of our longest-tenured members and volunteers is Sidney Finkelstein.

Sid, as he’s fondly known, has been volunteering with the YMCA of Greater Toronto for decades and in that time has brought his expertise and leadership skills to a variety of experiences.

Sid says that volunteering for the YCMA of Greater Toronto for the past 37 years is one of his great joys. He has embraced many roles during his career as a YMCA volunteer, including past Board Member and Chair of the Board’s Auditing and Nominations Committees. He has also been part of the Leadership Council at the North York YMCA. When you talk to Sid, you can tell that he is most passionate about his role as Group Fitness Leader and Group Fitness Mentor. He has trained more than 100 new group fitness instructors and has no plans of stopping.

Before COVID-19 hit, Sid was teaching group fitness classes at a variety of YMCA locations including North York, Oshawa, Scarborough and Markham. He is certified to teach many classes such as Runfit, Boxfit, Pilates, Boot Camp, Muscle Fit, Muscle Works, and Arriba.

When we temporarily closed our Health and Fitness centres in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we also had to pause many of our volunteer programs, but that did not stop Sid from continuing to serve the Y community. He sprang into action and reached out to several other volunteers and members and they started corresponding online and working out together virtually. It was his way of keeping the spirit of the Y going even in a time of crisis. “We stayed connected and supported each other through emails and on Zoom in the beginning. We’ve kept that up even now,” he says.

Once YMCA health and fitness centres re-opened in late Spring, Sid was back to teaching group fitness classes. “I used to teach about 12 classes per week, but after the pandemic, that number decreased to about three classes per week.”

As the infection rates started to rise again in the GTA in Fall 2020, many of the YMCA centres once again closed their doors to indoor programs but our committed team of employees and volunteers kept working. Outdoor classes were available at many YMCAs. One of those was Sid’s home Y in North York. He put on some warm workout gear and showed up for the community again, this time to teach three outdoor group fitness classes per week. He also attended other outdoor classes as a participant. When asked about what it was like to volunteer and work during this challenging year, he had this message:

“Volunteering is a really important part of connecting and feeling useful and productive, especially during challenging times. Right before the pandemic hit, I retired and I actually don’t think retirement is right for me. I think I will be back to working again once the pandemic is over.”

It’s evident that Sid thrives when he is serving others and staying active. With some YMCAs temporarily closed again and outdoor programming paused for the winter season, Sid is still showing up to serve the community by lending a helping hand with our food bank initiatives. Part of the North York YMCA is currently operating as an extension of the North York Harvest Food Bank.

Our staff and volunteers are working hard to prepare food donations for the people in our communities who need the extra support. COVID-19 has created more food insecurity in our city than ever before and Sid says actively working to help alleviate some of that strain on people in our neighbourhoods is motivating him to keep going.  “Volunteering at the food bank is what keeps me excited and looking forward to something every day.”

We are lucky to have such a passionate and committed member on our team. Thank you for all your hard work, Sid!

For anyone interested in donating food or gently used winter clothing, we are accepting donations for the entire month of December at all nine YMCA Health and Fitness centres. Find out more on our Facebook event page.