The Gleaner

Volunteers make a very big difference for CHSLD residents

Everyone who knows Huntingdon resident Shirley Stark knows not to organize anything with her on Tuesday afternoons.

For the past 35 years, Stark has been volunteering every Tuesday afternoon at the Huntingdon Residential and Long-term Care Centre (CHSLD), where she leads a team of volunteers in organizing small concerts by local musicians as part of the Tender Loving Care program. She first learned of the musical therapy program while visiting her father when he was a resident of the care centre. She began volunteering right away and has never looked back.

At 91 years old, Stark says her work with the residents over the years has played a very important part in her life. “When you see their smiles and how they are enjoying themselves, you enjoy coming,” she says, while adding that her volunteer experience has been very rewarding.

Along with Stark, the team of volunteers behind the Tender Loving Care program includes Dawn Fleming, Mary Shewchuk, Denise Brown, Diane Hayvren, Mary Savage, Muguette Quenneville, and Vicky Krajcar. “We have all stuck together and developed friendships out of it all,” says Stark, who is careful to include the musicians as volunteers as well.

“We are so fortunate the musicians all like to come. They give us a lovely afternoon of music,” says Stark, of the different bands and groups who happily play free of charge for the residents each week.

Around 85 per cent of the 60 residents at the CHSLD take part regularly in the TLC afternoons. Many have limited mobility and are living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but this does not matter to the TLC team. Stark says they work to create a festive atmosphere, where the volunteers dance and interact with residents. “They know we are going to look after them for the afternoon,” says Stark of the trusting bond the volunteers develop with the residents.

Stark says she is often struck by the way music reaches the residents. When the bands play certain songs, they can sing along to every word. There are often requests for specific songs as well. She remembers one woman who was always agitated during the musical afternoons. When the volunteers discovered she was a former music teacher, they wheeled her up to the piano. “When she put her hands on it, she just played beautifully,” recalls Stark. “We remember them all fondly,” she says, with a smile.


Volunteers with the CISSSMO were able to enjoy a recent performance by Elvis tribute artist Sylvain Leduc Events such as this would not be possible without these dedicated volunteers PHOTO Sarah Rennie


The staff are also very aware of the importance of these afternoons, as are the families of residents, who sometimes join in on the fun. Véronique Blais, a communications and public affairs representative with the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de la Montérégie-Ouest (CISSSMO), says volunteers make a significant contribution to improving and maintaining the quality of life of residents and their families. Their work complements that of the healthcare teams and provides a more human care experience for residents, she explains.

There are 52 active volunteers with the Huntingdon CHSLD, which is significant considering there has been a significant decrease in the number of people donating their time throughout the CISSSMO since the start of the pandemic. “We currently estimate that there are 300 volunteers across all our facilities,” says Blais, who notes there were upwards of 600 volunteers prior to 2020. She says the CISSSMO is now recruiting new volunteers in the hope of matching their pre-COVID numbers by 2025.

Stark says the pandemic stopped the TLC Tuesdays for a while, and there have been a couple of afternoons where the activity has been cancelled due to an outbreak of illness or COVID in the building. Her group of dedicated volunteers doesn’t hesitate to get back to work once visitors are allowed to return. “We have to rock the boat and keep going,” she says of their devotion to the residents and the program.

“Shirley is a role model,” says Lisa de Repentigny, who works as a leisure technician at the CHSLD. “She likes music, she likes people, and it is very easy for her to come,” she explains, while highlighting how important the work of volunteers like Stark and her TLC crew are to the residents.

“We see a big change in our residents,” de Repentigny says. “[The volunteers] bring a little bit of normalcy,” she adds. “We are very lucky to have them.”

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