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Acquiring volunteer hours is something that all teenagers need to do to graduate in Ontario. Often, students piece them together over their four years of high school and when they’ve fulfilled their obligation, that’s it.

While Brooke Holmes, a grade 12 student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Russell, might have started getting volunteering hours by delivering meals for Carefor’s Nor-Dun Seniors Support Centre in Winchester to fulfill this requirement, the experience quickly become much more meaningful.

Brooke first found out about the opportunity to deliver meals to isolated seniors from a friend of her mother’s who posted on Facebook about her experience doing it. In October of last year, she delivered her first meals to clients living in the Beachcroft and Millview seniors apartment buildings next to Nor-Dun.

She admits that on her first day she was, “a bit nervous, worried about how the residents would respond,” but her anxiety was eased with the support of Nor-Dun supervisor, Caroline Rooney, who “took the time to walk me through everything and came with me for my first time.”

The act of delivering the meals is fairly simple: “I pick up the hot meals and name chart from the kitchen at the Carefor building. I then walk to the Beachcroft and Millview next door. I deliver to the names on the chart for that day and then return to the Carefor building.” However, Brooke realized that it’s so much more than just a meal, “I never thought about how such a small part of my day is such a big part of their day and how much they look forward to it.”

For many seniors, various factors in their lives prevent them from being able to get out of the house. This isolation has numerous negative consequences both mental and physical. While her visit may be short, Brooke shows how someone who cares coming by with a hot meal, a smile and a genuine concern for them can undo so many of the effects of isolation, even if it’s just for a moment.

“The best part is seeing their smile and how happy they are to see someone, have a little talk with them and hear their stories,” Brooke says. “It’s the highlight of their day.”

As is the case with volunteering, it’s not entirely about doing something for someone else; it can also be doing something for yourself. “I have made many new friendships, but one stands out in particular, Peter, and I can’t forget about his cat Puffs that always runs out to also greet me. Peter is just the sweetest person. He says he recognizes my knock and knows it’s me at the door.”

Despite having accumulated her volunteer hours, Brooke hasn’t stopped making her meal deliveries. “I have collected all my volunteer hours but still go because it makes me so happy to see the smile on the faces of the residents when they come to the door. I would absolutely recommend it to other students. It’s very rewarding.”

Mary Wiggin understands the importance of stories – how they help us learn and connect. Since retiring she has done many things to keep herself active, among which is being a professional storyteller. We’re blessed to have had her tell her stories at our adult day programs for people living with dementia, spinning tales to unlock our clients’ memories and imaginations.

However, every Friday when she comes and volunteers, she does it to lend a hand to the staff at Carling Adult Day Program, or so she did before the pandemic stopped her from being able to three years ago. Since, then she hasn’t come in, but on January 6th, is excited to return for the first time since March 2020.

Often when people think of volunteers, they think of people giving of themselves, generally in the form of their time. But Mary sees it as an exchange. What she gets is laughter and a glimpse into the fascinating lives of people who have attended our adult day programs. “I’ve spoken with someone who mapped parts of the Arctic, doctors, farmers…One man was professor of fungi and mushrooms and when you’d ask him about it his face would light up and you’d get a lecture…It’s amazing what they remember.”

One thing that the pandemic took from many of us were stories. As we sat in our homes, often doing small tasks, watching TV, perhaps learning a skill, we lost that human interaction, that joy and unpredictability that comes from being around people. This is one of things that Mary is mostly looking forward to when she returns next month. “You get to connect with people. Laugh with them. Help them and hear their stories.” Often as we progress through work, we can get mired in the work of work. “Writing reports about reports,” as Mary quips. “These day programs bring joy into people’s lives,” says Mary. “The staff are incredible…they treat people with such respect.”

When she started at Carling Day Program in May of 2015, she didn’t know what to expect. She’d been looking for places to volunteer and stumbled upon Carling by accident as she lives in the area. From the beginning, Mary says that the staff at Carling made her feel welcomed and offered her support and guidance in how to best support and interact with the clients.

For some, supporting people living with dementia can be challenging as the disease presents itself differently for each person. And for some, especially people who are aging, it can be a little scary as dementia is something many people fear might one day happen to them. However, Mary found a joy in being with the clients. “The staff are so supportive…And people are people. You see who they were even if they might not be completely the same person.”

We are grateful to Mary and all our volunteers. As Carefor’s programs return to being in person, we are looking for people who are able to volunteer at our adult day programs as well as many other programs and services across the organization. Your support will have a huge impact on the lives of the people we serve.

If you’re interested or would like to know more, people visit carefor.ca/volunteer.

Volunteering means something special for each and every one of us. It means even more when you’ve been doing it for over 30 years. For Mark and Joanne Floyd, longtime members of the Pembroke Bible Chapel, bringing joy to seniors who need it the most in their community has meant the world to them.

The stark reality of senior isolation hits close to home for Mark. When his mother transitioned to a long-term care facility a few years ago, he could see firsthand the challenges involved in moving from one home to another.

“These individuals need a lot of support, especially when they leave their homes and move to a place where they feel like their whole life has turned upside down,” he says. “Volunteering is incredibly important for retirement homes in order to make it work. Volunteers can bring various interests and expertise to the home, making people’s lives more rewarding.”

Since Mark retired three years ago, he has been looking for more opportunities to reach out to the most vulnerable in our communities. Nearly two years ago, he and Joanne began playing, singing hymns and giving inspirational messages at Carefor’s Civic Residential Complex and Mackay Residential Centre.

“We assume people in care facilities don’t experience loneliness or isolation, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Mark says. “We bring church to seniors who may have trouble leaving the facility or to those feeling lonely and isolated.”

Thinking back at the feedback of residents still makes Mark emotional, knowing that he’s touched someone’s heart.

“You don’t do it to get that feeling, you do it because you know it’s the right thing to do.”

The idea is to spread joy, connect, and brings words of encouragement to them. It sounds simple, but it has positively affected the lives of countless Carefor residents: “It’s a wonderful thing when you walk into a room and the residents light up.”

When our communities went into lockdown in March, Mark and Joanne got creative to reach out to residents. Like many of us now, they’re using virtual Zoom calls to meet online with residents.

“We’re still finding ways to give back,” he says, noting that connecting with seniors during this challenging time of heightened social isolation has never been more important.

Despite the challenges that virtual meetings have, Mark and Joanne still make sure seniors feel included, and are on the lookout for new residents to make them feel connected and supported.

Their daughter Megan Shepheard, who once accompanied them on volunteering outings, is now the Recreation Coordinator at Carefor Civic Complex. She jokes around that her father spends so much time with residents that one day he will move in with them.

Mark’s answer is touching: “When that happens, at least I’ll have friends there.”

By Mary Wiggin, Professional Storyteller & Carefor Volunteer

After I retired early in 2015, I began to look for a new volunteer challenge to complement the involvement I already had with the Great Canadian Theatre Company and Ottawa StoryTellers.

For over 30 years I worked in non-profit adult literacy organizations, first as a teacher and then for two decades as an administrator organizing and coordinating board meetings, workshops, projects and community events. By 2015 I knew that I needed a change and wanted to do something quite different in retirement. I yearned to get back to working directly with people and I was drawn to the idea of doing something with seniors.

For several months, I searched online, not quite certain what shape that idea would take. Quite by chance, I stumbled upon the Carefor website one day. As I read about the different services they offered, I was intrigued to learn that a day program for adults with dementia was offered on Carling Avenue not far from where I lived.

By this time, I had contacted several organizations responding to requests for volunteers, with mixed success. Some groups took weeks to respond or never contacted me at all. But still feeling drawn to working with seniors, I took a chance and sent an email to the Carefor contact person. I was delighted to receive a response almost immediately and was then referred to Roma Antonello-Harris to find out more about the Carling Adult Day Program. During our phone chat, Roma invited me to come to the program for a tour and I gladly accepted.

As soon as Roma greeted me and began to introduce staff, volunteers and club members I felt the warmth and camaraderie of the program. The centre was bright and cheerful and welcoming. And of great significance to me was the fact that every volunteer I met had been with the program for years. I had managed volunteers and knew that good people only stay in programs that offer them respect, interesting work and a measure of goodwill and fun.

I began volunteering on Fridays starting in the middle of May and only lasted two weeks before I fell while out walking and broke my right wrist quite badly. Surgery was required and I did not return to the day program until well into August. I was welcomed back with open arms and I have been there ever since. Well, until the beginning of March 2020, that is, when Covid-19 changed everything.

It has been almost nine months since club members, staff and volunteers have been able to gather to enjoy our usual activities–Scrabble games, art work, chair exercises and afternoons of music and dancing with visiting performers. What a loss for all of us. But the Carefor staff quickly rallied and began to offer a variety of services on Zoom and by conference call. And for anyone uncomfortable with those options, there are weekly individual calls from staff to maintain that all important contact with members and their families.

I have been a storyteller for almost 20 years and have performed in a wide variety of community settings including programs for seniors. During the pandemic I have been delighted to use that skill to entertain audiences young and old with tales that take them out of this world and into lands where animals can talk to one another and the heroine always outwits the nasty giant. I never imagined I would be telling stories on Zoom and by conference call but that’s just what’s happening and thank goodness for those technologies.

The Carling Day Program is a wonderful gathering place for seniors with dementia and the members of Let’s Get Together. The staff and volunteers work hard to ensure that everyone is treated with respect and has the best day possible each time they attend. When people ask me why I would want to volunteer in such a setting the first thing I tell them is that I laugh more on Fridays than any other day of the week. Club members, volunteers and staff alike find joy in simple acts of kindness or sharing a cup of coffee and a muffin while reminiscing about cherished childhood memories. The atmosphere is supportive and relaxed and helps people to feel loved and to realize that they matter in this world. And while all of that is going on, family members have a few precious hours to themselves to run errands, catch up on laundry or maybe even spend a little time reading a book or going for a walk.

Volunteering matters as it affects the quality of life for everyone in our community. I like to think that I have done some good as a volunteer but I know that I get more out of it than I can ever hope to give back. And because I am a storyteller, I think this wee tale says it all when it comes to each of us doing our part.

One day Elephant came upon Hummingbird who was lying flat on her back on the ground. The tiny bird’s feet were raised up into the air.

“What on earth are you doing, Hummingbird?” asked Elephant.

“Well, I have heard that the sky might fall today, said Hummingbird. “If that should happen, Elephant, I am ready to play my part in holding it up.”

Elephant burst out laughing and he laughed and laughed and mocked the little bird.

“Do you really think those little feet could hold up the sky?”

“No, not alone,” admitted Hummingbird. “But each of us must do what we can. And this is what I can do.”

Seniors and volunteers are at the heart of what Carefor Nor-Dun is to the North Dundas community. The folks who visit and volunteer at the centre really are what makes Carefor Nor-Dun unique. 

Sheila Hughes has been a Carefor volunteer for over 11 years. When she retired from Kemptville Home Support, it didn’t take long before she realized that she needed to connect with people. Whether it be helping the community or spending precious time with her grandchildren, Sheila is a people person at heart.  A typical day volunteering for Sheila includes greeting folks visiting Carefor Nor-Dun with a friendly smile, directing phone calls, and helping out at the South Mountain Diners’ events twice a month.

More recently, Sheila helped at a special diners’ event at the Nor-Dun Centre where seniors were welcome to enjoy a three-course homemade meal. Setup like a traditional family dinner, seniors engaged and joked with one another, while others were wearing their best smiles from ear to ear. Sheila explained, “I’ve met so many interesting people and consider many of them friends. I love bringing a smile to their faces! That is the value I get from volunteering.”

After their meal, a local beekeeper presented to diners on everything there is to know about bees. This in-depth demonstration is just one of the many opportunities where special guests join the congregate diners.

Prior to the pandemic, Carefor Eastern Counties had over 600 volunteers supporting programs including diners events, meal delivery, transportation services, and more. The Nor-Dun Centre is grateful to volunteers who were able to weather the storm and return this year. Caroline Rooney, Carefor Nor-Dun Supervisor said, “We offer such a wide range of services that it would be impossible to offer them all without the support of our volunteers. They, along with the seniors we serve, really are the heart of Carefor Nor-Dun.” Sheila feels, “Volunteering with Carefor is truly rewarding.”

If you, or someone you know is interested in  volunteering, Carefor Nor-Dun has plenty of opportunities! Visit www.carefor.ca/volunteer for more information.

Twenty-five years ago, Doreen began volunteering at a seniors program run out of the Old Ottawa Hospital. Two and a half decades later she’s still volunteering, but now it’s at Carefor’s Perley Adult Day Program. She comes every Thursday, which happens to be Men’s Day. They play games, talk about current events, have a bite to eat and play a little pool.

Today, there’s a singer belting out songs from decades past. Doreen stands up and turns to the gentleman beside her. She extends a hand practically pulling him from his seat with the warmth of her smile. As they dance, she talks to him, they share a laugh, he gives her a twirl. It’s like watching two friends out on the town.

When asked, Doreen says what many volunteers say: “I get more out of this…than what I’m ever giving.”  She continues, “It’s very rewarding. It’s very nice to see these gentlemen…who had a life and had a career…it’s nice to be able to mix with them and hopefully make them feel important and loved.” You can see the essence of volunteering in how Doreen is with the clients – people connecting with people. There’s an exchange that’s taking place lifting everyone up.

As much as today there is dancing, it’s not always easy. The trouble with making relationships is that they eventually end. “I look forward to [volunteering at Perley]. I feel almost devastated when some of our clients either move or pass on. They feel like family.” But in the time, Doreen and the men she volunteers with are in each other’s lives, you can see how important it is, to all of them.

Thank you, Doreen, and to all our volunteers for what you give.

If you are interested in volunteering, visit https://carefor.ca/support-carefor/volunteer.

Some people see volunteering as a means of filling their time after retiring from a lifelong career. For others, it’s a passion instilled within them from their upbringing and shared with generations to come.

Barbara Ann Zummach is celebrating 30 years of volunteering with the Carefor South Stormont Support Centre in Ingleside. Formerly a registered nurse at the Cornwall Community Hospital, she began delivering meals to seniors in the community along-side her parents, followed by her aunt. “The upbringing I came from and what I’ve tried to instill in our next two generations after us is that volunteering is medicine. It makes you feel worthy and good. It keeps you active, keeps your mind going and is something to look forward to,” Barbara Ann explained.

Reflecting on how volunteering has changed over the years, Barbara Ann has enjoyed her role as a driver, and chatting with other volunteers while delivering meals. No matter the weather, Barbara Ann has always managed to make it to her deliveries: “It doesn’t matter if the roads are dirty or if they’re icy, you take your time.”

Now a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteering has changed across Carefor. Barbara Ann explained, “We’re usually solo in the car, which makes a difference.” Looking back, Barbara Ann misses chatting with seniors during her deliveries: “The pandemic has certainly limited our enjoyment of interaction, but I think personally, I like to take the break from my life and transition into theirs through conversation. I really do enjoy hearing about the grand babies and what’s new and important to them.”

The Meal Delivery Program is one of the many essential community support programs offered by Carefor and relies on the help of volunteers to stay operational. “Being a volunteer gives you a lot of satisfaction,” Barbara Ann shared. With over 500 clients across the Eastern Counties, the Meal Delivery Program has nearly doubled over the past 12 months.

Support the program today by becoming a Carefor volunteer.

As the team at Carefor continues to adapt to ongoing changes with COVID-19, volunteers have stepped up, continuing to have a commanding presence in the lives of clients from afar.

Normally, Carmen is the Coordinator of Palliative Services in Eastern Counties and runs a Palliative Day Program out of Hawkesbury. The program offers a friendly environment that gives clients an opportunity to share with others going through similar life experiences. “They get so much enjoyment out of it. It’s a day away from worrying about medical stuff going on in their lives.”Carmen, Coordinator of Palliative Services in Eastern Counties.

However, when Carefor shifted operations in mid-March to meet COVID-19 changes, Carmen and her team saw the opportunity to continue to connect with clients while still meeting mandated guidelines. It was at this point her team of volunteers started contacting clients over the phone and by email to prevent them feeling isolated. “Many clients are of a certain age, living alone. We’ve had a couple cases where there were some serious things going on and the client needed support.” The team formed a communication triangle, connecting Carmen with her volunteers who reach out to clients. The volunteers then communicate once more with Carmen in case there are any immediate supports required.

Carmen is proud of her volunteers and the positive impact they continue to make within rural communities. “They are always flexible and adaptable. They want to help. I am very proud of my volunteers. They have done such a great job since they’ve been off, making lots of calls and letting me know if something is off. There’s good communication between us all.”

“Things appear much greyer, but there’s a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. They’re supported and they know people care – That brings a lot of light into their life.”

Although many of us are experiencing new realities, Carmen and her teams outlook is only positive and encouraging.  With the team ready and available over phone, Carmen shared “The portals of communication are open, and as time moves on, we’re available and flexible.”

To learn more about the Palliative Day Program offered through Carefor Hospice Cornwall, click here. Interested in reading more about our Carefor Heroes? Find their stories here.

In an effort to help vulnerable clients and members of the community in need amid COVID-19, Carefor Renfrew County has partnered with St. Joseph’s Food Bank in Pembroke to deliver food hampers.

“The volunteers at the St. Joseph’s Food Bank are amazing people.  They work tirelessly to ensure food sustainability in our community, which is so important every day, but especially during this unprecedented time,” says Janna Wood, Carefor Community Support Services Program Supervisor. “We feel privileged to be working with them.  Many thanks to all of the volunteers who make this happen, and to our staff drivers for making the deliveries!”

Thanks to generous community donations, the St. Joseph’s Food Bank has been able to make their hampers quite substantial, providing groceries twice a month to almost twenty clients. Carefor drivers, like Michael Venne, pick up and deliver the food hampers every Monday to those in need.

“Everyone at Carefor is to be commended for making this happen for your clients,” says John Kilborn, President of the St. Joseph’s Food Bank. This initiative shows how quickly partnerships can be built and adapted to support the most vulnerable in our communities, especially during a time of need.

Delivering a smile to isolated seniors

Volunteering can be fulfilling and fun, especially when it’s within your community. Pat, an almost twenty-year volunteer at the Carefor Glengarry Outreach Support Centre in Lancaster is one of many volunteers who finds joy in connecting with the community. Encouraging others in the Lancaster community to volunteer, Pat sees volunteering as an opportunity to get out of the house and make a difference.

APat, a Meals Delivery Volunteer.s a Meal Delivery driver, Pat looks forward to connecting with her clients when she goes to make her deliveries. When she started volunteering, she was looking for something to fill her time. “I love going to see the people. I stay for the fun in it and look forward to doing it.”

With the Meal Delivery service being essential to the community, Pat continues to make her deliveries to her clients amid the COVID-19 crisis. Although some changes have been made to protect her and her clients, it doesn’t stop her from sharing a smile and a quick chat. “When I make their delivery, I knock on the door or window and have a quick chat while keeping my distance.” Pat finds peace in making sure her clients get their meal and knowing they’re safe. “You’re still meeting the same people and get to check up on them that they’re doing ok.”

Pat, like many of our volunteers has been called upon to continue to help with meal deliveries. To our dedicated volunteers helping us get through these challenging times, we would like to say thank you. We couldn’t do it without you.

Carefor relies on over 900 volunteers across Eastern Ontario to help deliver essential services within your community. If you would like to become a passionate Carefor volunteer, click here for information.