Here at SPH, it’s no question that volunteers make a positive impact on each and every one of us every single day. They give of themselves endlessly, bringing smiles and compassion to each patient, visitor and staff member. Many of these volunteers have been doing so for several years or even decades while others are newer to the hospital – but regardless of circumstance, every one of these volunteers brightens the world with each kind word and generous action.
In an effort to show them just how much they mean to us, we sat down with a few volunteers from very different generations. At an afternoon tea party, 88 year old Shelagh Bell – an avid volunteer at SPH since 1992 – and four of our ‘Volunteens’ enjoyed tiny sandwiches and delicious scones while getting to know one another and sharing their mutual passion for volunteering. The Volunteens are an enthusiastic, outgoing crew comprised of four recent graduates of Stelly’s Secondary School: Emma, Abby, Shaughnessy and Chantal. Excited to share their volunteering wisdom, they tucked into the tea while Shelagh served as their interviewer.
“So,” Shelagh began, adjusting her tea party hat. “Tell me a bit about yourselves.”
In a conversation reminiscent of a first date, the four young women began to list their occupations, backgrounds and dreams. All four grew up here on the Peninsula and have known one another as classmates and friends for as long as they can remember. Sharing similar passions, it seems that life is taking them down parallel paths. Emma and Chantal both hope to attend medical school at UBC someday although they are currently working towards their undergraduate degrees. Emma is particularly interested by neo-natal and maternal healthcare while Chantal is passionate about becoming an orthopaedic surgeon. Having recently returned from several months volunteering at a hospital in Japan, Chantal is a year behind the studies of her peers, but inspired and invigorated by her adventure. Abby and Shaughnessy on the other hand both wish to become registered nurses. Abby is excited that, as an RN, she would be able to experience many different specialties, while Shaughnessy hopes to work in pediatrics. In discussing their futures, however, there is a common thread of anxiety about the competitiveness of their chosen fields. It is getting more and more difficult to get into medical and nursing schools where high grades are of greater value than personality or work ethic.
“Well I think you’re all amazing,” Shelagh finally interjected. “When I graduated from high school, the idea was that you work, marry, have babies and that’s it. I came to volunteering late in life, after my family was grown.” Then in typical fashion, she pointed out the ironic side of things. “Although I’ve been volunteering here longer than any of you have been alive.”
The four laughed, and helped themselves to more tea while Chantal divulged another funny fact: nineteen years ago, our current Chief of Staff, Dr. Ambrose Marsh, was the doctor who delivered her right here at SPH. Two decades later, Chantal and the others spend much of their free time here, chatting with residents in the ECU and helping the Foundation with its events. It isn’t simply a route to gain references or volunteer hours for a résumé but something that they genuinely enjoy.
“When I was seven,” Abby began, “my grandma was in palliative care here for many months. As a result I spent a lot of time here as a kid, and it stuck. Sure, we all have days when we’re tired or don’t feel like coming, but afterwards we feel so much better.”
Emma agreed with her. “You get that one person who holds your hand when you leave and thanks you for being here, and that makes it all worth it. It really teaches us about communication and empathy.”
They all pointed out that for them, volunteering is far from a chore, but instead the good part of the week. They look forward to it, and it inspires them. “My family is all in the medical field,” Shaughnessy offered as an example. “My dad is a pharmacist, and several of my grandparents and great grandparents were doctors. They all absolutely loved their jobs.” Today this is something she experiences everyday through her volunteer work. It’s something that she loves.
Clearly impressed, Shelagh quickly began recruiting. “Do you have brothers and sisters? Are they as good as you?” Her question was met with laughter and headshakes.
As the tea party wrapped up, the age difference separating the Volunteens from many other volunteers at SPH dissipated. Despite their youth, the wisdom of lessons imparted on them by their volunteer experiences was apparent. “Being here has taught us to know why people are the way they are,” Emma concluded. “It has taught us to empathize, to persevere and to be positive.” At the end of the day volunteering means everything to these girls. With wide smiles they all agreed. “It facilitates what we need to feel fulfilled.” The positive effects of their efforts are twofold; they benefit not only themselves, but the lives of everyone they meet.
By Stephanie Siddon, SPHF Summer Co-op Student