Volunteers an army of angels

November 2016

For most people, a hospital is a place that you try to avoid. Thankfully, there is a small army of angels who choose to be there to help those who have to be there.

The volunteers at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre are there every day to assist in many different ways, and hopefully make any experience at the hospital a little less stressful. Whether you are there as a visitor or a patient, at some point, a volunteer is there to help.

TBRHSC currently has over 500 volunteers that contribute 40,000 hours per year and range in age from 16 to over 85 years old.

Nancy Elmslie was recently honoured by the Hospital Volunteer Association this year for over 50 years of volunteer service. Nancy and her husband moved from southern Ontario to the former Port Arthur in 1965. Being new to the city and wanting to meet people and contribute to the community, she began volunteering at Port Arthur General Hospital. She used her experience as a kindergarten teacher to give hospital tours to school children. She says that introducing and familiarizing these students to the hospital made them less overwhelmed and nervous when they needed to come for surgery.

Through the years, she has selflessly given her time to the people of Thunder Bay, and now volunteers in Seasons Gift Shop one afternoon a week. She recognizes the importance that a simple act of kindness can make. “You never know what kind of a day that person is having, and you have to try to put yourself in their shoes” she says. She relayed a story where a patient was reluctant to make a purchase in the gift shop, because they were worried they would miss their name being called for their appointment. Nancy offered to wait outside for her to listen for her name while she completed the transaction. Small things truly do make a big difference.

Over her caring career, Nancy has also held many positions on the Volunteer Association Executive, including President, Secretary Treasurer and Volunteer Coordinator.

At the core of Nancy’s philosophy is “do whatever is called for”, including recruiting a paddywagon to give her a ride to PAGH for her volunteer shift. The story goes that on a cold day when her car wouldn’t start, she began walking to PAGH. The paddywagon pulled up to the Port Arthur Health Centre where she had stopped to warm up. They reluctantly agreed to give her a ride the rest of the way when she told them her only other option was to hitchhike. Now that is dedication and resourcefulness!

In addition to her work at the hospital, Nancy also volunteers in the community. She gives her time to the Salvation Army Kettle Drive and also helps to pack hampers for the Christmas Cheer Fund.
“I find these activities very rewarding as I know they directly help those who are having a hard time.” says Nancy.

Akul Bector is a Grade 12 student with an unstoppable desire to make a difference. At the age of 17, he is already a seasoned volunteer. His volunteer experience includes canvassing for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, where this year he will be a canvasser coordinator, working with children at the Superior Science camp at Lakehead University, a program that fosters interest in science, engineering and technology, and most recently, volunteering at the hospital. Of the many areas where volunteers are utilized at the hospital, Akul was drawn to the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP). He spends every Friday evening visiting the patients enrolled in the program. It is easy to see why the patients respond to his easy smile and gentle manner. “Most conversations start out talking about things like the weather, or how their supper was. I’ll usually ask them where they are from, and then that gets them to talk about their own lives-that’s when it gets really interesting.” He recalls one patient who was talking about music, and realized that she listened to the same traditional Indian music that his Dad listens to. “That was a really nice connection to make”, shares Akul.

The HELP Program has loaded iPODs with classical, 40s, 50s, 60s and even Finnish music that the patients can borrow. Akul particularly likes getting these for the patients and seeing how the simple act of listening to familiar music can bring them joy. “It is so great to see them really cheer up, singing, tapping their toes. People even remember words to songs they haven’t heard in years. It really is when magic happens.” says Akul, with a big smile on his face.

“Patients adore the HELP Program and are thrilled. Many families are relieved that their loved one will be receiving that little bit of extra attention while they are in the hospital.” says Kelsey Lecappelain, HELP Coordinator. She adds that the volunteers enjoy providing this service as much as the patients enjoy receiving it. Many volunteers stay on longer than anticipated, and they love how great it feels when a patient asks them to come back to visit again.

Nancy and Akul are but two shining examples of the volunteer spirit that makes Thunder Bay great. Although they insist that what they do isn’t amazing, they are a true reminder not only at this time of year, but all year, that it is truly better to give than receive.

For more information on volunteering at the TBRHSC, contact Donna Jeanpierre, Manager, Volunteer Services, 807-684-6267 or at jeanpied@tbh.net

Kathy Shilliday is a regular contributor and a hawk eye for stories to share. She can be reached at rkshilliday@tbaytel.net

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