Meet a 70-something uber-volunteer

Glenda once resisted the idea of living in a retirement residence. “I used to shake my head when someone said I’d be wise to get into senior accommodation before I needed it,” says Glenda. “I just wasn’t ready. Then she realized that by moving to The Marleigh in Unionville, Ontario, where meals, cleaning and chores are taken care of by staff at the BayBridge Senior Living community, she could devote more time to her passion — volunteering. The 73-year-old resident volunteers almost the equivalent of working full-time hours through her work at her local church and a nonprofit. We asked her to share her journey into helping others.

How did you become so committed to helping others?

“My mother died two days after my twin sister and I were born. We had teams of uncles and aunts who took care of us. When I was four, my aunt and uncle adopted us and they raised us to believe that we are our brother’s keeper. They had helped families who had escaped from Europe during the Second World War.

As an adult, I worked as a teacher, consultant, vice principal and finally, principal in inner city schools in Toronto. I enjoyed another great learning experience working in Bloorview School, teaching children with physical challenges who lived at Bloorview Children’s Hospital.

How did you get involved in volunteering?

Later in my career I lost my sister to cancer. Before she died she handed me her bucket list and asked if I’d complete it for her. At the top was volunteering with Evergreen Hospice, which I did for 13 years after I finished my teaching career.

I was assigned to homes where the family was vulnerable. At my first site, the father had died and the mom was trying to work while raising four children. The youngest was four years old and he was not yet at school full-time. I was asked to play with him in the mornings, feed him lunch and drive him to school for the afternoon, then his siblings would walk him home. It was February and he wanted to practice hockey so I played goalie and he would try to score. We spent all morning outside — he never seemed to get cold! One of the most touching moments happened when one day he asked, ‘Do you want to know the story of my father dying?’ I said ‘Absolutely, what would you like to tell me?’ It was always a case of building trust with people, trying to understand their situation, helping however I could whether it was cleaning the floor or watering plants. Every case ended up in conversations, mostly with me listening.

Can you tell us about your most recent volunteer experiences?

I’m a deacon at a local church. We got involved with Restore Canada, a nonprofit that supports people in distress by offering short-term relief and longer-term planning toward a more sustainable future.

I remember helping one client: a new Canadian and her children who had spent two years moving from shelter to shelter to escape physical, sexual and emotional abuse by her husband. She had moved into a townhouse but had minimal furniture. Through the churches, we provided bedroom furniture, appliances, clothing, sheets, towels — the sorts of things you need to get on your feet. She was a trained medical doctor in Iran before she came to Canada. It made me realize that one can be comfortable in life and then one or two major things can hit and everything falls apart.

Why do you devote yourself to volunteering?

It’s my way of giving back to a community that has given me so much. I find it very rewarding to live out my faith by helping people.

If you’d like to free up your time for your passions, book a tour today at your nearest BayBridge Senior Living community.

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