Volunteering can be as Simple as Holding a Fellow Resident’s Hand

Marianne Gaettens recalls an Open House at her home in The Village of Arbour Trails encouraging residents to get a feeling for what life is like in each of the neighbourhoods throughout the continuum of care. Marianne is among those who live independently with very little need of support, but the village supports many other residents requiring varying levels of care, from assisted living in Egerton neighbourhood to full support in Emma’s for people living with the ever-changing symptoms of dementia and memory loss.

Marianne of The Village of Arbour Trails is one of several 
residents who volunteer to support others in the village. 

When she visited Emma’s that day, she came to the realization that some of the residents living there once lived independently as she did. Progression of illness or a sudden catastrophic event such as a stroke or a fall had forced their move to a neighbourhood where their more complex needs could be met, but they were still her neighbours.

After that visit she chose to spend more time in Emma’s, if only to sit with someone who rarely welcomes visitors and hold their hand while sharing a bit of comfortable conversation. “I do have time on my hands,” she says, when asked about her time volunteering. “I like to get involved and if I can do something for somebody else it gives me a sort of feeling that I’m still useful.”

When her husband passed away in the fall of 2016, not long after they moved to Arbour Trails, Marianne felt the emptiness that accompanies such grief, and offering a bit of herself to others helps fill that space somewhat.

People who live in Emma’s may face memory loss and other challenges due to the progression of their illness or the dementia affecting their brain, but they still know and appreciate the value of kindness and friendship, and Marianne is happy to offer that in small ways when she is able.

There is a gentleman with a German background like hers, for example, so Marianne arrived in Emma’s one day with a large book containing pictures of old Germany, and together they glanced through it. He knew all the cities and many of the landmarks, and found pleasure revisiting them with her. That is the beauty of being a regular volunteer: you get to know each person and their likes and their needs, helping create more meaning in each visit.

The value Marianne finds in volunteering her time in small ways adds up, she says, and she encourages other residents who are able to look at what they might offer their fellow residents in other neighbourhoods.

“A lot of people are a little bit afraid,” Marianne says, “but to me these are still the same people; it’s just they may have lost some of their memory, but it’s easy to connect. All they want is to see another person and know that they’re not forgotten.”