‘I’ve made someone’s life a little happier,’ says 50-year volunteer Eleanor Snider
Along with a longtime career in nursing, teaching at Niagara College, being a founding member of the Alzheimer Society of Niagara board, being on the St. John Ambulance chapter board for more than 50 years and raising a family while also pursuing other community causes, she somehow found the time to volunteer at long-term care homes run by the region in Welland — for no less than 50 years.
The high-energy Fonthill senior was one of almost 60 volunteers with the region’s eight long-term care homes who were honoured by the region at an annual luncheon gala at the Americana Conference Resort in Niagara Falls on Wednesday. The volunteers, who briefly stepped into the spotlight to be recognized for reaching volunteer milestones ranging from five years to a half-century, have collectively volunteered 800 years at the homes, said Kristin Mechelse, program manager for the Linhaven long-term home in St. Catharines.
The event had a tropical theme, complete with virgin pina coladas and Hawaiian leis, and Mechelse called the volunteers “rays of sunshine” who bring joy to the hundreds of residents in the homes.
“Your generosity has made a profound and lasting impact on our residents,” she told the gathering of almost 300 people.
“When you volunteer you are making a commitment to share that most precious of resources: your time,” said Mechelse. “What you do makes a difference and brightens the day of those you touch.
“(It) makes the greatest difference in the lives of the individuals who are touched by your generosity.”
Snider, wearing her trademark purple clothing, was named a dame by the Queen about a decade ago and received other accolades, but she’s quick to stress her volunteer work at the Woodlands of Sunset home and the former Sunset Haven home before that, isn’t to get honoured.
“I get a feeling of satisfaction because I’ve made someone’s life a little happier,” she said. “I’ve given them something they need. I’ve given them love.”
Something as simple as a butterfly-soft touch on the shoulder of a hunched old man or woman in a wheelchair as you walk by can have a profound impact on them, said Snider.
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“I think people sense I care,” she said. “I think God put me on this Earth to do these things.”
Nelly Van Pagee was also honoured for her 20 years volunteering at Linhaven, where she’s president of the Friends of Linhaven. The group has raised almost $700,000 in that time, which went toward purchasing equipment and two grand pianos, which have greatly enhanced the quality of life for residents, she said.
“A lot of people can’t remember their names, but when you play some music on the piano, they remember; it takes them back to their childhood,” said Van Pagee. “For most of these people, this is their last home, so let’s make it a happy place and make them smile. I love what I do.”
Henri Koning said the volunteers’ commitment shows through in their willingness to donate their time doing everything from acting as personal shoppers for residents, to volunteering in fundraising cafés, tending gardens and feeding residents incapable of feeding themselves.
“The warmth and compassion they bring, it changes the daily life of residents,” she said. “The impact is immeasurable. It’s pretty amazing.”
Adrienne Jugley, commissioner of community services for the region, told the volunteers they play a “crucial” role in supporting staff at the homes. “We couldn’t do what we do without you,” she said.
Welland regional councillor Pat Chiocchio, who worked for decades at the region’s seniors department, said he’s seen first-hand the difference that volunteers make. “You change people’s lives,” he said. “It’s the smallest thing you do that can make the biggest difference in a senior’s life.”
Regional Chair Jim Bradley told the volunteers via a video that they make the homes warm, welcoming, safe and comfortable, and he stressed their impact goes far beyond the nearly 52,500 hours volunteered last year or the vast sums of money raised by auxiliaries.
“(You) see it in the eyes, smiles and hearts of our residents,” he said.