By Kelsey Davis
Volunteering at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice has been an important part of Betty Tough and Patricia O’Connor’s lives for more than a decade. The sisters were first introduced to Canuck Place when Betty’s grandson received a complex medical diagnosis requiring the specialized care offered by the Canuck Place team.
“I am a Canuck Place Grandma,” says Betty. “My first connection to Canuck Place came in 2004 when my grandson, Andrew, and our family, were so lovingly cared for by the compassionate people who work and volunteer at Canuck Place. When it was decided to open a second Canuck Place hospice location in Abbotsford, it felt like a good way to give back.”
Patricia followed in her sister’s footsteps, recognizing the impact the team at Canuck Place had on her family, as well as the importance of community support during extremely difficult times.
Canuck Place Children’s Hospice is the only pediatric palliative care provider in BC and Yukon. Last year alone, over 818 children living with life-threatening illnesses and families received care. Through Canuck Place, children and their families can access medical care, respite care, grief and bereavement counselling, education, recreation and music therapy at Dave Lede House in Abbotsford and Glen Brae House in Vancouver. Additionally, Canuck Place provides patients and their families a choice for care in the home.
Each sister has taken on different volunteer roles within the walls of Canuck Place. You can often find Betty sitting at reception, warmly greeting families coming and going, or writing thank you cards. She is also a member of Canuck Place’s grief support team, supporting families who have lost a child.
Patricia shares her time in the heart of Canuck Place, the kitchen. Kitchen volunteers like Patricia lovingly prepare hot meals twice a day, seven days a week, ensuring families feel the comforts of home while staying at Canuck Place. Patricia carries a key title. She is one of the bakers behind the world-famous Canuck Place cookies.
Betty and Patricia are two of over 400 volunteers who give their time and love to Canuck Place. These incredibly valued members of the Canuck Place team provide essential support. From playing with children and siblings, to caring for the beautiful gardens, to greeting worried families at reception, volunteers are truly the backbone of the organization.
The fear and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly challenging for the children and families at Canuck Place. But volunteers like Betty and Patricia have generously stepped up to find ways to support the kids and their families from across BC, like joining a virtual recreation therapy session or saying hello during a virtual school lesson.
“To say it takes a special type of person to volunteer at Canuck Place is an understatement,” says Jessica Tremblay, Director of Volunteer and Support Services. “The volunteers bring joy and comfort to the kids and their family members, many times during the midst of simply unimaginable circumstances. They keep our garden and grounds beautiful, they support with meals, cleaning, raising important funds for care and so much more! Our volunteers touch almost every aspect of our work. They step up in countless ways that allow Canuck Place to deliver exceptional care. Their (in-person) presence has been greatly missed throughout the pandemic and the last year has reinforced just how much we value them and their beautiful talents.”
For Betty, volunteering at Canuck Place has helped in her healing in the loss of her grandson. Being able to give back to other families like hers has allowed her navigate her own journey with grief and be a source of support and love for others.
“While the stories of children are incredibly sad, the time they spend at Canuck Place is filled with joy, laughter, and support from everyone in the building,” says Betty. “Canuck Place is a place where vulnerable children and their families are treated with respect and love.”
To donate to the care at Canuck Place visit canuckplace.org/donate.
Currently, Canuck Place is not actively onboarding new volunteers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the volunteer program for to submit your application for a future volunteer role please go to canuckplace.org/volunteers.