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Adult Day Program volunteer Jo-Anne Forkes creates colourful times for Clients.

I grew up with an extended family – 3 generations in one large house; so we were used to having older people around.  When my children were little, I took a few years off from work, to stay home with them.  I volunteered at the local daycare and then went on school trips with my kids.  Then I was back at work full-time, juggling work and family life.  When I was nearing retirement, my first thoughts were – “hooray! I can sleep in whenever I want, and when I actually retired, it was great to have such freedom.  I could meet friends for lunch, take my time browsing at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum, take long walks exploring Toronto’s neighbourhoods with my friends, and do some travelling.  However, after a few months, I realized that I missed some kind of structure in my life.  Volunteering seemed to be what I needed.

I’ve been in a few choirs for several years now and have occasionally performed at some retirement homes.  I noticed that in some residences, the seniors were active and well-looked after; but in some places, there were more elderly people who needed a lot of help just getting around.  But all of them enjoyed our visits.  So, when I decided that I should do some volunteer work, I checked out Better Living Community Centre, which is not too far from where I live.  There was a need for volunteers in the Adult Day Program, and that’s where I ended up.

I consider myself a “junior – senior” since I’m just in my early seventies and most of our Clients are in their eighties and up.  I’m an “upbeat” person and I believe I make our Clients’ day somewhat brighter, when I engage them in conversation, comfort them when they’re a little sad or disoriented.

One of my favourite interests is doing arts and crafts.  In ADP, I enjoy helping Clients improve their fine motor-skills – colouring, painting, cutting pieces of paper to make flowers, folding paper to make fans, etc.  We put up their art work on our walls and use some of their creations as centre-pieces on our tables.  I especially love assisting Clients with their art work and helping Grissel (our ADP staff member) in making decorations for special occasions, Clients’ birthdays and ADP special events. I also create my own art work, to brighten our walls.  I love vocal music, especially songs of my mother’s era and from my own youth…music from the 1920s right up to the 1960s. Music was a significant part of my childhood.  Our family had a large collection of old records – the heavy vinyl disks of mostly American music, like the big bands.  Our ADP Clients are of the age where they remember such music.  Often during the lunch hour, we will play CDs of that era and most of our Clients show recognition of the tunes.  When they watch videos of old movies or concerts where there is that kind of music, our Clients will sing-along or hum these tunes.  And for about an hour, everyone is happy.  Some afternoons, Munni Subhani leads a program of easy dance movements, which the Clients love – and so do the staff and volunteers.

Volunteers assist the staff in providing mental and physical stimulation to the Clients during the time they spend with us.  We also have fun games that involve some physical skill which provide Clients with some exercise which they seem to enjoy.  For us volunteers, it is satisfying to see Clients participate in an activity and even show a little competitiveness in the games.  By the time the Clients are ready to go home, they are tired, but they look forward to coming back the next day.  Their families meanwhile, have a break from looking after their loved ones and are able to attend to other matters of daily living.

Sharing a home with elderly relatives as I grew up, I learned to just listen to them.  Sometimes, one or two of our Clients will talk about the times when they were young, how the Second World War affected their early lives; they talk about their families and their jobs.  Some of them are really amazing – they’ve travelled to different parts of the world; they talk about the difficulties they’ve faced and the changes they’ve seen.  They are glad when someone wants to hear their stories.

Volunteering has brought back my creative side which stayed dormant during my working years.  I am happy to share this part of me, as well as my love of music, with the Clients and staff of the ADP at Better Living.  I hope that someday, when I have to move to a nursing home, there won’t be so many elderly people sitting, just waiting. I hope that there will still be accessible fun programs for seniors and lots of volunteers to cheer us up.