We are incredibly proud of our volunteer program at The Royal. With over 470 volunteers who dedicate their time, skills and talents in a wide variety of ways, our volunteers contribute to community-building both inside and outside of the walls of our facilities. Volunteers have been fundamental to the fabric of our organization for over 100 years!
Here are some of our amazing volunteers:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
That’s the motto Barry C. lives by and what prompted him to volunteer for the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre.
Living near the Ottawa site and realizing they could use some help, Barry has served as a porter for the pharmacy and office for more than nine and half years.
Twice a week, Barry retrieves a cart from the pharmacy and checks the labels to see where he needs to deliver much-needed medication or other goods to the various wards.
He’s also willing to take on extra duties if necessary and is quick to help out if his services are required more often then his pair of regular shifts.
He enjoys the complimentary orange juice while he works, and Barry says volunteering has also helped him earn a lot of respect and even medallions of gratitude for his service.
“People are thankful when I can help out, especially in last-minute situations,” he says. “I’m thankful to receive my disability pension and so I want to help others.”
For more than a decade Debbie has offered her time and skills to volunteer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre.
“As a client of the hospital I want to give back some of the care that I receive."
Over the years Debbie’s done just about every volunteer task you can think of, from working in the gift shop and helping out with special events, to stuffing envelopes for fundraising mail-outs and serving as a Volunteer Association Board Member-at-large.
A typical day in the gift shop for Debbie starts by verifying the float is accurate and stocking up on the confectionaries before beginning to serve customers. She currently volunteers twice a week and is quick to lend a hand with extra shifts when required.
In addition to knowing that she’s appreciated for the skills she can offer, Debbie says volunteering has boosted her self-esteem and allowed her to return a sense of dignity to individuals who need care and compassion.
One of Debbie’s most memorable experiences is helping to coordinate the Christmas vouchers that are given to clients through the social work fund each year.
She later heard of a client who, with the help of the $30 voucher, was able to give her daughter a holiday meal and a few extra treats, allowing her to demonstrate to Children’s Aid her sincere desire to provide a positive environment for her child.
The voucher, along with some clothes from the royal exchange, brought a joy to the woman’s heart that Debbie says she won’t soon forget.
“Volunteering at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre is a rewarding and challenging experience that can bring hope and dignity into a person’s life when they are in a place of despair,” says Debbie.
Whatever the reason that Debbie keeps coming back each year, we know both the staff and the clients are grateful for her presence.
Glenda K. helps bring the joy of music into the lives of clients at The Royal by playing the piano at church services.
She chose the Royal after her daughter had a positive experience completing her high school volunteering hours and let Glenda know they were looking for someone who could play the piano.
Since Glenda had already been considering doing volunteer work, she thought she’d give The Royal a try because “People care very much here about the clients. This really is the place to come to get help.”
Lucky for the Volunteer Association, she also plays the organ, so the residents of Royal Ottawa Place, a long-term care centre, are also able to enjoy her music.
Glenda also volunteers as an information assistant in the Patient and Family Resource Centre, where she helps people with the computer, photocopying, and signing out books and videos.
One of her most rewarding volunteer experiences was when a ParaTranspo driver accidentally dropped off a blind client at the wrong door. Because Glenda recognized the client from her volunteer work, she was able to approach the client and talk to her until the driver came back after checking where he was supposed to take her.
“I felt better because I was able to reassure her that she would get to the right place,” says Glenda.
“One of the benefits of volunteering here is that I get to play music twice a week,” says Glenda, who has been helping out for the last year and a half.
“The residents are very appreciative and enjoy singing along. When I leave each shift I’m always humming!”
These days knitting is making a comeback as a therapeutic pastime but at The Royal’s geriatric day hospital, Helen C. has made quilting all the rage.
For nearly nine years Helen has been quilting wall hangings to brighten up the hospital walls and also brighten a patient’s day with a chat and some quilting tips.
Helen says the staff have been fantastic and she really enjoys her volunteer shifts. “Sometimes there is no one that sews or quilts but someone comes over and just talks. I hope it helps the patients as I feel good about it,” she explains.
Helen began sharing her quilting expertise each week after a social worker who had worked with her husband asked if she’s ever considered volunteering. “Since the Royal had helped him I decided I should help them out too,” she says.
Helen recalls one patient who had never quilted before but started learning from Helen during her time in the day hospital, and grew to like it so much she even took her quilting project home to work on it at night.
“Even after she finished she came in a few times to tell me that she was still quilting and it was a great pastime for her,” says Helen. “It made me feel really good that I had helped at least one person.”
There were other patients who hadn’t quilted in years and Helen sparked their interest in taking it up again. Much to Helen’s delight, a few even went on to finish projects they hadn’t worked on for years.
“Sometimes it surprises you that you really feel you’re getting more out of it than you put in!”
John H. is one of our most dedicated volunteers.
A member of the Volunteer Association board since 2003, John’s involved not only in meetings for about four hours a month, but he puts in another 300 hours each year helping to organize special projects like the annual Comedy Night.
According to John, typical board and committee meetings are both informative and interesting, as they’re a great opportunity to learn more about the hospital, the clients it serves and the people who work together to make it all possible.
An employee with Health Canada, John thought it would be a good idea to get more involved in the community. “Volunteering with the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre offered an opportunity to provide the most direct positive impact as mental health seems to be the ‘orphan child’ of the health-care system,” he says.
John credits his volunteer work with helping him grow personally and expand his people and communications skills. He’s also learned how to effectively work in a board environment while meeting many interesting and fun people also dedicated to supporting mental health.
“My most memorable experience is the fun we had at the annual Comedy Night in 2006 where I worked with the comic hosting the event to get the audience prepared for a photo shoot in our attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most clown noses worn at an indoor event,” he chuckles.
“We didn’t set a record – in 2007 we will – but all 562 of us had a lot of fun that night and a lot of laughs!”
When asked if he could tell others one thing about volunteering at The Royal, John says “Just do it! You won’t regret it and by helping others you will help yourself in more ways than you can imagine.”
If you believe the saying ‘Life is a highway”, then Ken L. would be one of its happy chauffeurs.
When considering how he could do some volunteer work, Ken saw an ad that The Royal needed drivers to take clients to and from appointments and, since he already enjoyed driving, he thought the position was right up his alley.
He’s been providing this valuable service at least once a week since January 1993, and has helped clients for whom it may be physically impossible get to where they need to go, as well as support those whose issues such as a fear of crowds have prevented them from traveling by bus.
In other cases, it’s simply a matter that mental illness and poverty often go hand-in-hand, and some people simply can’t afford transportation to access the treatment they need.
For Ken, volunteering is an opportunity to give back what’s he’s received himself.
“I feel I’ve had every good break in life imaginable,” he says. “By volunteering to help others who haven’t had it as good as me, I feel I’m sharing my good fortune with those who need a hand. It makes me feel like I’m not just taking my life for granted.”
We are fortunate indeed that for more than a decade, Ken has been willing to donate his time, driving skills and generous spirit to clients of The Royal.
Perhaps Ken himself sums it up best: “Being — even in a small way — a part of a process that helps improve the lives of others is probably the best thing we can do with our lives.”
Already a volunteer with the Cancer Society, Martina L. wanted to also do some volunteer work in a hospital setting, but was worried she might inadvertently bring home an infection to her family.
A volunteer position in the Patient and Family Resource Centre of the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre seemed the ideal solution. One afternoon a week, Martina helps patients, family and friends find information about mental health.
She provides them with brochures, signs out books and videos, plus helps them surf the Internet or simply chat while passing the time until their appointment.
Martina says volunteering at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre has given her new insight into mental health issues and their challenges. She’s also developed friendships with other volunteers and enjoys feeling valued for her contribution.
Once she spent a whole afternoon helping a client find information about schizophrenia and new medications for treatment. “It was a quiet afternoon so I was quite free and this gentleman told me several times how much he appreciated my help and the help of all volunteers that donate their time at the hospital,” she explains.
“Volunteering is very rewarding,” says Martina. “It’s definitely worth your time and volunteers at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre are treated really well and are very much appreciated.”
One morning a week, for about 3.5 hours, you can find Natalie C. volunteering in the hospital café, serving coffee, tea, juice and snacks to patients, staff and guests.
“I volunteer with Sarah, and we have a great little system figured out in the café,” says Natalie. “Sarah serves the coffee and I take care of the money. We both give out the snacks and juice.”
Natalie says the café is “a fantastic spot to volunteer” because she gets to meet and interact with so many different people every shift: from doctors, to patients, to visitors.
Volunteering also provides Natalie with a good opportunity for learning new skills, such as customer service, which is an asset in any field.
It was the hospital’s mission, vision and values that prompted Natalie to volunteer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. “I like what the Royal stands for and it’s a completely different atmosphere than your standard general hospital,” says Natalie.
She credits her volunteer experience with teaching her how to deal with and treat people from all walks of life.
“The most rewarding part of volunteering at the Royal has been getting to know the patients and see the happiness in their eyes when they see that you have returned for another shift,” says Natalie.
“It’s comfortable for them to know there are familiar faces around, and that’s clear when you speak to the patients.”
Natalie says everyone at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Centre is “amazing” and that the people are so friendly that it’s fun to volunteer there.
“I have nothing but great things to say about my experiences at the Royal, and I hope to continue volunteering here for years to come!”
Gratitude for his sobriety is what motivated Robert W. to volunteer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre.
Robert and his partner host a one-hour Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for clients of the hospital’s Assessment and Stabilization Unit on a monthly basis.
They are involved in the discussion portion of the meetings, providing a brief statement of their personal stories of alcoholism, some of the problems they encountered as a result, then how they found AA and what they’ve done to recover.
“Just starting the meeting and getting a few of the patients to share their own experiences and fears makes it all worthwhile,” says Robert. “Plus, I get to give back a little of what was given to me by the AA program.”
Robert encourages anyone considering volunteering in this way at the hospital not to put it off and do it as soon as they can. “You will never regret it, as helping others is its own reward,” he says.
“Even though the people in the Assessment and Stabilization Unit are supposed to show up to the meeting, occasionally you will talk with one who has really gotten something from your message and might remember something you said at a critical moment in the future.”
Robert stresses that everyone can make a difference by volunteering. “What could be a better use of your valuable free time than helping someone who really needs help?”