“They are the heart and soul. Without their dedication, we wouldn’t be able to offer our programs.” That’s Graeme Morrison of Community Care; he’s talking about volunteers. Ask at any social agency or charity and you’ll be told the same.
At Community Care, volunteers do everything from cooking and driving for Meals on Wheels to assisting clients with income tax preparation to volunteering with hospice care. In the year before the pandemic put some services on temporary hold, 434 volunteers contributed about 70,000 hours (the equivalent of approximately 40 full-time jobs).
Who are these good-hearted and big-souled volunteers? Overwhelmingly, they are seniors (roughly 80 per cent at Community Care) and women outnumber men.
My friend Jane Junkin ticks both those boxes and for the past decade has given at least three or four days a week to Community Care and another to the Humane Society.
I first knew Jane as the vice-principal at the elementary school where I taught. She was the perfect fit for the job: caring and empathetic, unflappable and tough-skinned, but with a highly-attuned b.s. detector and a sense of humour.
When she retired after 34 years in education Jane began driving for the Cancer Society. On trips to Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, she’d drop off clients then wait at the “Drivers’ Lodge.” That’s where she heard Community Care offered the same service along with many others and decided to volunteer as a driver there.
Some of her Community Care driving has been local, transporting people to medical appointments, for shopping, the hairdresser — whatever is needed. More and more, though, it has been taking patients to Toronto hospitals.
Long trips with individuals anxious under stress. What’s needed are, she explains, “people skills: being able to listen, a sense of humour, a tough skin.” The skills that served her well as a vice-principal.
Over the years she developed bonds with those she helped. They range from a four-year old with leukemia (now 15, and doing very well) to a 92-year-old.
Not all stories end happily. “The toughest part is the ones you lose,” she says. “They have a special place in my heart.”
Being able to compartmentalize becomes important. “I still have my own life — grandkids, family, things I’m busy with and a home to keep up,” she says.
She also has three dogs and four cats — Jane’s always had a soft spot for animals, particularly animals in need of a caring home.
Which brings us to her Humane Society volunteer work. Two of the dogs, a Shih Tzu and a miniature Schnauzer, came from the shelter. “If you volunteer at the Humane Society, sometimes you bring your work home with you.”
For the Humane Society her chief responsibility has been driving vanloads of cats and dogs to Newmarket for spaying and neutering, sometimes on her own, sometimes with another volunteer. It means pulling out at 6:30 a.m. and returning in the afternoon.
There have been memorable and satisfying experiences. She remembers, for example, the time 27 animals (one pregnant) were rescued from a single home. All were adopted out, given a second chance.
A final question for Jane: Why volunteer? “You don’t do it for yourself. It’s what it does for the clients, whether two-legged or four-legged.” But there are lots of ways she and other volunteers benefit too, as she’s quick to point out: “Volunteers are really good people; friendships develop from volunteering and you share laughter and tears. It makes you appreciate what you have.”