Dana Chandler is a unique volunteer at Matthew’s House. She volunteers for all the usual, good reasons: she knows she’s helping a good cause, she loves interacting with people and it gives her a good feeling. But for Chandler, those are simply side benefits. Her real reason for volunteering goes much deeper than this.
“I love volunteering at Matthew’s House. I know it sounds cliché, but volunteering here really has filled a hole in my heart,” she says.
Laura Ullock is the resource development assistant for Matthew’s House and responsible for event planning and organizing volunteers.
“Dana is so reliable and always willing to help us out at any of our Matthew’s House events,” said Ullock. “A volunteer like Dana really makes a difference to me because she does such a beautiful job in all of the activities she participates in whether it’s serving hotdogs, starring in our promotional video or standing out in the rain talking to people about Matthew’s House.”
What makes Chandler unique is that she knows exactly what parents of children with complex health care needs are experiencing. Chandler had German Measles when she was 6 weeks pregnant with her son, Evan. Because of this, Evan was born with congenital rubella syndrome, which left him completely dependent on others for his care. His needs were so great that Chandler, a single mom, couldn’t care for him and her younger daughter, Angela, by herself. She relied heavily on outside help. By the time Evan was 16, Chandler’s options were dwindling so rapidly that she chose to leave Abbotsford and move her family to Edmonton where she received daily in-home care. It began with six hours a day but his health deteriorated and his needs increased so dramatically that by the time her son passed away at the age of 23, Chandler was getting help in her home 12-hours a day. She also had a very good friend who provided her with a place to share frustrations, fears and joys.
“If Matthew’s House had been available when Evan was a child, I would have been able to stay in Abbotsford, close to my extended family and get the break I needed,” she said. “There simply wasn’t anything like that back then.”
Evan passed away in 2009 and the first few years after his death were difficult. While Chandler was relieved that Evan was no longer in pain, she missed him. She felt as though she’d lost a bit of herself. Moving back to Abbotsford was a good decision, bringing her back to the extended family that she needed. And one of the first things she heard about upon her return was that Matthew’s House was going to be built.
Located in Abbotsford, Matthew’s House is a ‘home away from home’ that provides respite care for children from across B.C. who live with complex health care issues. Respite care gives parents a much needed break to rest and rejuvenate, strengthening the whole family. Matthew’s House has been open for just over a year but Chandler first heard about it when it was being built.
“I read about it in the paper,” she says. “I just knew that I wanted to be a part of it.”
And she has. It took a commitment from the community to build the home and fundraising continues to be important to keep Matthew’s House up and running. Dana has volunteered from the very beginning. She has been the smiling face at dozens of events, interacting with people, sharing information, telling them how vital Matthew’s House is for families.
Chandler has particularly enjoyed meeting parents and letting them know about this great resource.
“I know how exhausting it can be to raise a child with high needs, when you feel like your only existence is your child’s survival,” she said.
She can also tell them about the quality of care that she has seen children receive when they stay at Matthew’s House.
“Every child at Matthew’s House feels like a star,” she said. “They love being there and the staff are amazing. I think that gives parents real peace of mind.”
One of the most poignant volunteer experiences that Dana participated in was the Grand Opening on Nov. 23, 2013, Evan’s birthday.
“It just felt like confirmation that this was where I should be involved,” she said. “I know that Matthew’s House gives families and children a better quality of life. It’s vital to me to be able to help out.”
To learn more about volunteering with Matthew’s House visit mattshouse.ca/volunteer