A VOLUNTEER’S STORY: Optimism is key during pandemic

Effie Coughlan stands on her front porch beside bags of clothes donated for the Brooklin Optimist Club’s coat drive. Photo credit: Effie Coughlan

Editor’s note: According to Volunteer Canada, International Volunteer Day takes place every year on Dec. 5 to shine a light on the impact of volunteer efforts everywhere. The Chronicle is proud to tell the story of community volunteers.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Brooklin Optimist Club has been hit hard. Although, with the support of the Brooklin community they’ve found a way to keep going.

Since 1987, the volunteer organization has focused on providing support and guidance for youth in the Brooklin area by organizing events and clothing drives. One of those volunteers is Effie Coughlan.

She has been part of the club for 10 years and loves volunteering, even if things have been different this year.

Coughlan, 50, has a full-time job as a social worker for Durham Children’s Aid Society (CAS), teaches part-time at Durham College in the Child and Youth Care program, and has a family, with daughters aged 17 and 20, who have also volunteered for the Optimist Club.

So how does she find the time to volunteer?

“I think it’s just organizing your time and having good people around you to help. I think the balance is all about working together knowing what the goal is when you’re volunteering,” says Coughlan.

One of the events that haven’t changed for the Optimist Club is its annual coat drive in November. Coughlan helped collect donations in Brooklin and couldn’t believe the support from the community.

“This year I collected over 300 coats, hats, mitts, boots, for kids in need. This year, the coats got donated to the Durham Children’s Aid Society, and so we want to make sure as an organization, whatever we do we do it well,” she says.

“Our community is very supportive of the Optimist Club. They open their hearts whenever I’ve asked for anything. The coat drive ended Nov. 20, and I still have bins of coats on my front porch.”

Coughlan always wants to do whatever she can to help kids in her community.

“I don’t want any child to go cold. We want to keep all kids warm and taken care of throughout the winter months. It’s sad to hear a child potentially doesn’t go to school because they don’t have a coat, or because a parent doesn’t have a coat to walk their kid to school in, so these are the things we want to think about,” she says.

Effie Coughlan taking a picture with Santa.
Effie Coughlan smiling next to Santa during the 2019 breakfast with Santa event, held in the Brooklin Community Centre. The Optimist Gym in the community centre is named after the Brooklin Optimist Club. Photo credit: Effie Coughlan

One thing the pandemic has taken away from the Optimist Club is in-person events. Youth dances and Breakfast with Santa usually take place in the Brooklin Community Centre and are used to generate funds for the club, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, Coughlan and the other volunteers have had to be creative.

This year, instead of Breakfast with Santa, the club has organized a Santa Claus Cavalcade Dec. 20 and a Holiday Cheer Initiative, where people can post themselves cheering someone up, and post it on social media, using hashtags like #cheerinbrooklin, and #optimistclubofbrooklincheer

Coughlan plays a huge role in organizing these events. The Optimist Club in Brooklin really consists of three clubs – junior, youth, and adult.

Coughlan, along with other adult club members, meet regularly on Zoom and help organize these events for the youth and junior clubs. She says the people she’s met over the years have definitely made her love volunteering even more.

“My favourite part is the fellowship. I think the friends I’ve made over the years of volunteering – we all have a common agenda that we want to help our community. I do love giving back, it’s been something that’s been instilled in me since I was a little girl and I want to honour my mother and father, who volunteered for so many years before me,” says Coughlan.

Her parents, who were born in Greece, taught Coughlan from a young age to always be grateful and help those around you. She volunteers to follow the footsteps of her parents who were volunteers for years.

“When you’re volunteering, it’s all about giving back to the community and making your community a better place, and I think I’ve done that,” says Coughlan. “This year, with COVID, people are so generous. They’ve really opened their hearts and want to help in any way.”

While the Optimist Club has had to cancel most of its events this year, the support in Brooklin hasn’t gone anywhere. The club’s slogan is ‘Bringing out the best in kids’ and Coughlan thinks the club will honour that slogan even more when the pandemic ends.

“I have hope, faith, and I know we’re going to be fine. I think we will pick back up once there’s a cure and the numbers start to decrease. Once that happens, hopefully, the health department allows us to open up and do things, then we’ll be back on track,” says Coughlan.

To find out more about the Brooklin Optimist Club, be sure to visit brooklinoptimist.org.

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