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.
Fifty years ago, Eleanor Stevenson, had some time on her hands and decided she wanted to help out at the new hospital in Whitby.
She’s been helping patients in local hospitals since.
When she started, she didn’t have much money, but she did have time, so she made tray favours to put on patient’s food trays when she started volunteering.
“Which sounds like nothing, but these are little things can be important to the experience of a patient,” is how Stevenson, 78, describes those early contributions.
She then started working as a dialysis volunteer at the Whitby hospital. In that role, Stevenson says there is a great deal of interaction with patients, which means she met the same people as they go to the hospital on an outpatient basis.
She made sure the patients were comfortable, got them coffee if they wanted. But she mostly just sat with them and listened to their stories.
While volunteering, Stevenson was also a manager at a credit union. She was also working for the secondary teacher’s federation as an administrator looking after all its financial statements.
“I wasn’t a teacher but my administrative and my financial abilities were honed in and used in that area,” Stevenson adds.
She retired from both jobs in 2002. But her volunteering continues to this day.
When fire broke out at the Whitby hospital on July 2, 2007, Stevenson moved over to the Lakeridge Health Oshawa hospital. She became a treasurer, with her financial background, for the auxiliary to Lakeridge Health Oshawa.
She is responsible for the funds the auxiliary receives, coordinates volunteer staff for the gift shop and for a bingo the hospital operates.
The auxiliary is pledging $1 million to help fund the new radiology unit. Stevenson says the auxiliary gave $200,000 this year.
“I happily do all of my chores…keeps me out of trouble,” says Stevenson with a laugh.
Stevenson says due to COVID-19 volunteering was put on hold in March at Lakeridge Health in Oshawa, until a pilot program began allowing a limited number of volunteers to start working again.
“I’m glad to be able to be helpful because I’ve got such a respect for the frontline workers and the staff at the hospital…I’m not afraid because they have been very, very stringent in what we can do and cannot do,” says Stevenson.
Volunteers have to wear a mask and a face shield to work in the hospital, Stevenson says. They are asked to take off their volunteer smocks and take them home and wash them before their next shift. They cannot wear them outside of the hospital.
“These are not huge things, but they are very important things that are a part of the safety procedures and if I didn’t feel comfortable, I wouldn’t go,” Stevenson says.
She says she was bored when she couldn’t volunteer in March.
Before the pandemic, she volunteered her time doing income tax for people with low income and was going to the gym three or four times a week. But everything was cancelled.
In the pilot – return to volunteering – program at the Oshawa hospital, she is giving her time as a transport volunteer. She directs patients or walks with them to where they need to go in the hospital.
Stevenson remembers guiding a lady Nov. 4 who needed to go to the breast assessment clinic who was having a panic attack.
She had the patient stop walking and just take a deep breath and relax.
“People tend to feel more comfortable with you and trust you,” when you take the time to help them, Stevenson says.
By the time they got down to the breast assessment clinic, Stevenson knew about half of the patient’s story, and Stevenson says the patient told her, ‘I’ll never forget you’. Stevenson says she left quickly so the patient wouldn’t see her tears.
As a transport volunteer, she says her shifts are for three hours on Fridays. When she was a dialysis volunteer her shifts were two hours, but she was working at 6:30 a.m.
“It makes me grateful that I’ve got good health…If I can relieve the boredom a little bit for the patient, that is a wonderful experience for me… and why I love it.”