St. John Ambulance: 900 years and helping

Durham College students destress with Harley the St. John Ambulance therapy dog and his owner Karen Waters.
Durham College students destress with Harley the St. John Ambulance therapy dog and his owner Karen Waters.

It has been around for more than 900 years, has 300,000 members and works in 42 countries around the world. St. John Ambulance has nursed people back to health, saved lives, provided valuable information and helped communities around the world.

It’s among the oldest charities in the world but they aren’t resting on the past.

Kim ImBoden, a St. John Ambulance Medical First Responder in Durham Region, started with the program to get out in the community and do something instead of staying inside. ImBoden got more than just getting out of the house.

“I found that I was out there helping people, feeling like I was contributing to the community,” said ImBoden. “We had one gentleman who severely injured his arm and we were able to assist him. I have been able to talk to him a couple of times and he’s doing great.”

St. John Ambulance was originally called the Order of St. John.

“For generation after generation that followed, the Order of St. John continued to move wherever human suffering and conflict called out to them,” said Tina Basque, branch manager for St. John Ambulance in Durham Region.

“In 1080, under the banner of the White Cross, Benedictine monks tended the sick and the injured knights and pilgrims in Jerusalem during the crusades.”

The Order of St. John in England in 1877 formed the St. John Ambulance Association, which is more of what we know it to be today.

Basque has been with St. John Ambulance since 1995 when she started as public relations intern in her third year at Durham College.

“Over the years there have been so many moments.  I have had a great time getting to know so many people over the years.  Listening to their stories, and feeling like my contribution each day matters, “ she said.

People aren’t the only ones who get to help and volunteer. Harley the ten-year-old, half Bernese Mountain dog, half Labrador, has been able to volunteer in his own way.

Angela Lorusso (left) and Ashley Bowyer, protection security and investigation students destress with Harley the St. John Ambulance therapy dog.
Angela Lorusso (left) and Ashley Bowyer, protection security and investigation students destress with Harley the St. John Ambulance therapy dog.

Harley and his owner, Karen Waters, have been a part of St. John Ambulance’s Therapy Dog program for the last six years. They have gone through rigorous training to make sure the animals; caregivers and the people they are helping are safe. They go through exercises and special training courses for any kind of situation from children running around to people with crutches or wheelchairs.

Harley and Waters have been to parades, nursing homes, schools and other programs to help people de-stress and relax. They recently walked through the Durham College campus during exam week to help students de-stress. Harley was so excited to be there he would go over to everyone who passed and tried to help the students by getting them to pet him.

Harley enjoys volunteering so much he will sit under his leash ready to go.

“There’s people in the nursing homes that don’t have family to visit them, the way we were taught was to look for the rooms that don’t have pictures on the walls,” said Waters. “There’s one lady I like to visit she’s on a feeding tube, so obviously she doesn’t get that stimulation to go to lunch with the others.”

Even though Harley loves toys and loves to carry things around such as his monkey with long legs and a long tail, he has learned not to touch things that aren’t his.

“One ‘funny’ time with Harley was when a gentleman had four brand new tennis balls on the bottom of the legs of his walker.  Harley plays with tennis balls and if you could have seen his face wanting those tennis balls,” laughed Waters. “But of course he knew he wasn’t allowed to touch them.”

Therapy dogs aren’t the only aspect of St. John Ambulance present at Durham College. The agency provides certification and volunteers for the Campus Emergency Response Team (CERT), the team that monitors the campus. There are two responders on call at all times.

Durham College and UOIT students are eligible to join the CERT program. Eric Viana, scheduler for CERT and second-year kinesiology student at UOIT, is using the CERT program as practice and experience.

“I just figured this is a good way to get my foot in the door, considering in the medical world you can’t really do a whole lot until you are fully certified for obvious reasons,” said Viana. “I just saw this was a good way to kind of put the knowledge I learned in the lecture hall to practice.”

Devon Richards, CERT Director and coordinator and paramedic student at Durham College started out with St. John Ambulance and transferred to the CERT Program at Durham.

Eric Viana (left) and Devon Richards (right) on duty and ready for anything at their office.

“It kind of becomes your second family because you spend so much time with people with such similar interests to you,” said Richards. “I mean we are on overnight shifts so you are spending 12 hours at a time with these people and they kind of become a big family in the end. So I have met a lot of life long friends through here.”

It isn’t all fun, a rite of passage for most of the CERT members is being vomited on. Campus Fest was Viana’s favourite day despite being his first experience where Richards’ first “initiation” was her worst day.

“It really soaks through your clothing and it’s really unpleasant,” said Richards.

But there are better moments.

One of Richard’s most memorable moments was the day she realized how much of an impact she and the CERT team actually have.

“I had a patient who was actually having a heart attack and it was the first day that I realized how much of a difference that we make,” she said. “Even though it’s just minor stuff and we are helping to hand off to the paramedics. It’s one-step that the school really needs us here to make that kind of impact in the community, and we are actually helping people. Sometimes it takes a really serious call like that to realize what a difference we make.”