‘An Explosion of Bright Colours and Positivity’

There are some people who step into a care setting in a student placement or volunteer capacity and they immediately shimmer in the role. They bring colour into the lives of those they come to serve and learn from, and they leave the home a little brighter each day when they leave.

On Halloween, Umme is dressed as a colourful Disney princess alongside another St. Clair team Member dressed as a clown.Umme Salama Meer is that type of person.

It’s a grey, mid-November afternoon and Umme is in between activities with the neighbours in The Village at St. Clair. She’s wearing a brightly coloured dress and her smile is a constant glow. She is slightly surprised to be asked to share her story, for she seems a bit shy and modest, but the team and Village neighbours that have come to know her in the past few months say her spirit and the impact she’s had in the Village is most certainly worthy of attention.

Umme came to Canada with her family from India at the age of 12 with no understanding of the concept of elder care as it exists in Canadian long-term care homes, for it never existed in her experience there. Yet she was drawn to the idea of caregiving, perhaps because of the innate gift of her compassion and her own experience overcoming challenges.

“I was born with cerebral palsy,” Umme thoughtfully explains when asked about the value she finds in her time with the residents she connects with. “I faced many challenges growing up, so I thought if I faced it and if I received help when I was young, now it's my turn to return it to my community.”

Umme is a student at St. Clair College in the Social Service Worker/Gerontology program, and she learned of the volunteer opportunities in the Village through her time in the Recreation and Restorative Care Course in early 2023. She didn’t hesitate to apply and almost immediately fit in when she stepped foot in the Village.

“Umme has really changed my line of thinking into being more positive,” says Volunteer and Student Support Coordinator Tammy Zimmerman. “She doesn't accept negativity - if you even start off with a negative thought, she makes you turn it around really fast.

“I always describe her as an explosion of bright colour and positivity,” Tammy adds. “She's very quick at showing you another side, another different perspective.”

In a colourful dress and a bright smile, Umme stands alongside a gentleman who lives in the Village at St. Clair.Umme smiles, almost uneasy at the sound of the kind, but true, words.

“I have had to do that in life in order to be successful,” Umme says. Negativity exists all around, she adds, and for someone who lives with cerebral palsy and the challenges that can carry, it could be easy to succumb to darker thoughts.

She chooses a brighter path, however, and in turn she brightens the lives of those around her. At the Village, she gains wisdom from the neighbours she connects with, and the comfort and confidence that comes with being her true, authentic self.

“There are people here who live here who have some physical limitations or other challenges, but I'm there for them because growing up, I got that, and now it's my turn to return it,” Umme says. “I enjoy getting to be my real self, offering my support and what I enjoy with the residents is getting to know them better and them getting to know me better.”

As 2023 moves into 2024, Umme is still only part way through her education, but she says her focus on serving seniors is set and the Village team and neighbours are grateful for it.

“My love for working in long-term care is only growing,” Umme says, and her future looks bright, indeed.