Jacob Fonte, a recreational therapist at SunnyCrest Nursing home in Whitby, is a bright light for elders within the community.
Fonte brings smiles to residents. From consoling residents to playing bingo, he manages to bring comfort during the happy times and the hard times.
“There’s like one minute you’re jumping with an old lady and dancing with her and playing bingo, and then they’re like this person is suicidal, or this lady really misses her grandson,” said Fonte.
His career started at Anderson Collegiate Vocational Institute when he did his high school co-op placement at SunnyCrest Nursing home.
After successfully completing his co-op and graduating high school, he took the Recreational Therapy program at Durham College.
Fonte’s inspiration stems from his own grandparents, as well as the 100+ residents that have become his adopted grandparents.
While he loves what he does and cares deeply for the nursing home residents he works with, Fonte is interested in expanding his horizons.
“I mean, I do love what I do, but I think there’s other things out there I can love,” said Fonte.
Fonte has concerns about who will fill his role when he inevitably decides to leave, knowing that not everyone would be as caring for the residents as he is.
“I’m doing the right thing and there is suffering here, but these people are thankful for me and I’m making it easier for them over the years,” said Fonte.
As a front-line worker, he faced increasing intensities in his position as the pandemic hit.
He found it difficult to maintain positivity during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. SunnyCrest had one of the biggest among nursing homes across the province.
At the end of November, almost every resident had been infected. All but one of the 118 residents tested positive for COVID-19, including 61 staff members.
“I was one of the lucky, very few people who didn’t [catch COVID-19]. So, I was working there for like two weeks straight essentially, while those 41 residents passed away. Everyone else in my department had COVID or took the time off, they didn’t want to work in that area … which is fine,” said Fonte.
Fonte had to follow strict COVID-19 safety protocols given he was working with many people who had the virus. This made an impact on his day-to-day life.
To gear up for work, he wears his scrubs, a gown, hand protection, plus a face mask and shield.
He had to do temperature checks daily at the beginning and end of his shifts, COVID-19 swab tests every other day and when away from work, remain isolated in his room.
This became his new norm.
Christmas 2020 Fonte spent working at SunnyCrest, then came home to self-isolate. His two older sisters came home for Christmas and he was not able to spend quality time with them and the rest of his family.
Fonte made sacrifices for the safety of the vulnerable residents.
This behaviour is not unlike him. His mother, Sally Roberston, says he is “genuinely a good person and cares a lot about other people.”
Growing up, Fonte made sure to look out for younger children within his neighbourhood and included them whenever possible. He also gave a lending hand to local elders.
“He really inspires me about how much he looks for and cares for people with maybe a smaller voice,” said Robertson.
His attitude from a young age reflected nothing short of Fonte’s hard work and kind words.
On Dec. 10 of this year, another COVID-19 outbreak was declared at SunnyCrest.
Fonte’s work is not done.