Today’s International Volunteer Day – the day we celebrate and give thanks for the many people across our country who give of their time selflessly to help others.
Here in Barrie we’re fortunate to have some outstanding volunteers in our midst – people who make a difference, and who are truly inspirational in the example they set for the rest of us. But the real secret, the real reason many of them keep going, day after day, lies in the satisfaction it gives them. Ironically, most volunteers say they get as much out of their work as the people who receive their help. It’s a classic win-win situation.
Take Joan Reid, for example. For 21 years, since she first retired – and she’s had some pretty serious health problems of her own – Joan has dedicated hours of her time every day to the full-time volunteer position of Transportation Convenor with the Barrie and District Unit of the Canadian Cancer Society.
In this role, Joan, who, with a twinkle in her eye, describes herself as ‘very elderly,’ provides cancer patients who need to get to appointments, either locally or in Toronto, with volunteer drivers who get them to their hospitals or doctors and then bring them home. It’s a daunting task, and one requiring a huge amount of co-ordination.
In a typical three-month period, Joan will co-ordinate over 60 drivers, providing almost 600 trips of up to 200,000 kms. She can be called upon to work out problems morning, noon or night – whether it’s a last-minute emergency appointment or a simple need to reschedule.
Over the past two decades, all without pay, Joan has helped thousands of Barrie-area cancer patients who are living with the stress and uncertainty of a disease that many of us still find fearful. Their courage, she says, is an inspiration.
The road to recovery
Or take Harry Anderson, one of Joan’s long-haul volunteer drivers who’s taken cancer patients to Toronto hospitals every Tuesday and Thursday for the past three years, his wife Mary at his side. A retiree like Joan, Harry decided retirement would leave him with too much time on his hands. Originally from Newcastle in the north-east of England, Harry and Mary emigrated to Canada in 1994, settling into their comfortable bungalow in Angus and following a son and daughter who had already moved here some years earlier.
An engineer in Britain, Harry worked as a draftsman for the company in Newmarket where his son was a Vice President. Now aged 70, with boyish good looks and a youthful disposition, Harry wasn’t ready to sit in a chair for his retirement, and Mary wasn’t ready to let him.
‘It gives us both a huge amount of satisfaction,’ Harry says about the 25,000 kms he reckons he puts in every year, in all weathers. ‘The clients I drive have a tremendous need, but they’re so positive, so cheerful, despite living with such uncertainty. In the three years I’ve been driving for the CCS, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a patient moan or complain. It makes you realize just how lucky you are.’
‘I had time on my hands but not huge amounts of cash, and wanted to do something which made a real difference. It’s made my retirement completely worthwhile. I know I’m doing a job for which there’s a real need, and so it’s incredibly rewarding.’
The Barrie branch of the CCS says it completely relies on its volunteer drivers, and it always needs more. The Society pays 29 cents a kilometre, and there’s no charge to the drivers for parking in downtown Toronto – there are various designated places, depending on which hospital the patient needs to visit. The drivers have their own room at the Princess Margaret Lodge at Bloor and Jarvis where they can socialize, play cribbage and get lunch for three dollars while they wait for the Toronto-end co-ordinator to designate them with a patient to take home on the return trip.
‘We rarely leave with the patient we’ve brought,’ explains Harry. ‘The first man out is usually the first man back. I’ll maybe pick-up a patient from downtown Barrie and return someone to Oro-Medonte. The co-ordination required is very complex, but it’s done to accommodate both patients and drivers. Ultimately, I just take my orders and do the driving.’
He’s met drivers from all over Ontario at the Lodge, and all of them seem to get as much satisfaction from their role as he and Mary do. ‘Our goal,’ says Anita Looby, who’s the Volunteer Development Co-ordinator at the Cedar Point office of the CCS Barrie Unit, ‘is to get every patient to every appointment.’
Driven to serve
Anita says she’s confident more volunteer drivers would come forward if they knew how comprehensive the training was. ‘Potential recruits need a safe driving record and a reliable vehicle. They have to be generally pretty available, and they have to be sensitive to the people they’ll be transporting. We pay for their driver abstract, and put them on a ‘buddy run’ with a more experienced driver before they’re asked to drive with their own patient.’
‘There are very clear guidelines which all our drivers follow, in terms of not talking about a patient’s illness with them in the car unless the patient himself or herself is happy to do so. We provide a Ride Guide – a pamphlet with full written instructions -and make sure they’re completely confident from the outset.’
Within about six weeks of the initial training, the volunteer is usually ready for his or her maiden voyage – with patient in tow. ‘We make it as easy as we can,’ says Anita, ‘but we always need more drivers.’
On average, 2,865 Canadians are
diagnosed with cancer every week.
The mission of the Canadian Cancer
Society is the eradication of cancer
and the enhancement of the quality
of life of people living with cancer.
To volunteer as a CCS driver, please call 726-8032
Harry admits there’s some depreciation, some wear and tear to his vehicle, ‘but that’s part of the service, the gift,’ he says. Most insurance companies waive any increase in premium that they’d otherwise charge, because the Canadian Cancer Society is a volunteer organization and registered charity.
Some CCS branches have had cars donated by local corporations, who sometimes defray the gas expenses as well. ‘It’d be a wonderful opportunity for a local company to be philanthropic,’ says Harry. ‘To the best of my knowledge, no Barrie-area business has yet come forward with a gift like this.’
Darryl Lynch of Innisfil is another recent retiree who’s been happy to help the CCS as a driver – although he’s currently taking a leave of absence, enticed back for a three-month stint to a salaried part-time job. He’s planning to return to volunteer driving next spring, and Joan Reid says that often, when a volunteer needs some flexibility, the Society is happy to accommodate it.
‘We have 25 Barrie-based drivers currently, 17 of whom, like Harry and Darryl, are prepared to do the Toronto run,’ says Joan. She typically phones her drivers the night before, and they contact the patient directly, to make their own pick-up arrangements.
Darryl says he’s ‘just one of those strange people who actually enjoys driving.’ A Manager with Environment Canada for 36 years, Darryl has first-hand experience of the difficulties and challenges people have to face as they’re undergoing treatment – his mother, diagnosed with colon cancer at 68, has just celebrated her 90th birthday, despite a pretty grim prognosis 22 years ago. Currently, his father-in-law and sister-in-law are both battling the disease.
Darryl is another driver who agrees to brave all weathers. ‘It would have to be a pretty exceptional circumstance for me to turn down a trip,’ he says. ‘I’ve never said no.’
Joan says her drivers ‘are the best in the country. The patients can’t get to their appointments without them. This is something that needs to be done, and we do it.’
Says Brenda MacGregor, Manager of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Barrie & District Unit: ‘Joan and her drivers make a huge difference in people’s lives. Their dedication and service are beyond measure.’