There is something almost magical in the way two people can meet in a random setting for a short period of time, instantly connect with each other, and lay the foundation for a truly authentic friendship.
They may come from different parts of the world, have vastly different experiences and be separated by more than 70 years of age, but when two personalities are aligned, they naturally mesh together when their paths cross.
It was like that for Vanessa Matzka and Hilda Hohl when they first connected at the Village of Winston Park in Kitchener in early September. Vanessa was following in her father’s footsteps when she came to Canada from Austria to experience a new country and offer her time as a volunteer. As an aspiring physician, she welcomed the opportunity to spend time at Winston Park four evenings a week during her visit to the Kitchener area.
She spent time in all of the Village’s neighbourhoods, sometimes working alongside recreation team members and others, simply going for walks outside with a resident or two. Vanessa’s broad, ever-present smile was contagious and many residents were drawn to her, while she was equally enthralled to connect with people whose depth of wisdom and experience was offered to her freely.
She met Hilda on her first evening in the village. Vanessa offered to help team members provide manicures for residents and she was paired with Hilda, who at 95 retains every spark of personality that drew people to her throughout her life.
“From the first time on we had good conversation,” Vanessa says, her Austrian accent tinged with contented laughter. She loved hearing about Hilda’s travels with her husband, who was a world champion horseshoe pitcher. Vanessa was told by the Winston Park team on that first day that if she found something she enjoyed in the village she was free to dive in fully; she really enjoyed visiting with Hilda so they saw each other often after that initial visit.
Hilda also felt a genuine connection with Vanessa from the first time they sat together, and she quickly began to look forward to her visits with her new young friend.
“It seemed to me that she was so interesting,” Hilda says, “and when I would tell her that, she would say the same thing about me. I liked her stories and she had the time and wanted to hear my stories, so we just got along very well.”
Hilda says Vanessa’s willingness to help others, combined with her patience and kind heart, will serve her well in a career in medicine. She’s glad to hear that her experience at Winston Park was such a positive one.
“I really enjoyed the atmosphere (at Winston Park),” Vanessa says, noting that she would be honoured to return one day as she continues her education. “All the residents are so happy and when I came in they were all loving and they were so thankful.
“I really enjoyed the stories they told me, because the residents have so much they’ve done in their whole life, so that’s nice when I’m able to listen to them.”
Vanessa returned home to Austria at the end of September, ready to refocus on her studies and her passion for competitive equestrianism. She recalls her time with Hilda and the wider family at Winston Park fondly, and is now looking forward to continuing her friendship by sharing letters back and forth. The lost art of letter writing, she says, may spark to life again thanks to her time with Hilda.