When Olga Joukova slips on her cheery blue volunteer vest and walks the halls at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) she sees more than patients in rooms – she sees stories. A Russian immigrant, Joukova discovered volunteering at Barrie’s RVH was a wonderful way to connect to her new country. “I spent 14 years as a stay-at-home mom. With limited English and living in a new country it was very hard for me to connect and learn about this society,” says Joukova. “Volunteering at RVH has given me the opportunity to truly understand this country through the stories the patients share with me. Every time I’m here I learn something new about Canada and what living here is — and was — really like.”
Even the concept of volunteering was strange and foreign to Joukova. “Volunteering is something new to me. In Russia it is not popular like here.” She learned about volunteering when her daughter, Alissa, entered high school and had to accumulate volunteer hours to graduate. “That’s when I thought, ‘Why am I here at home and not volunteering?’ I decided to go to RVH because it is a big place and there would be many opportunities for me.”
And she was right.
Last year RVH’s Blue Brigade, as they are affectionately known, contributed more than 120,000 hours in 75 different areas of the health centre. They escort patients to their destinations; assist in the beautiful, newly-opened Victoria’s Gift Shop; play bingo with patients in the Rehabilitation Inpatient Unit and everything in between and beyond.
“We are very fortunate to be able to boast about our 850 volunteers who touch lives every day in so many different ways,” says Valerie Bennett, director of Volunteer Resources. “Our volunteers are ambassadors who provide the human touch to our patients, their families and the staff at RVH. Volunteers commit at least one year of their time and are placed in areas that suit their interests and backgrounds. They impact us all and RVH is a better place because of them.”
Ninety-year-old William Haire will attest to that. He’s just come back from a lovely walk around the RVH campus with Joukova. It was the first time Haire has been out in a while and today’s walk was a sign his health is improving. In fact, Haire enjoyed himself so much he was almost late for lunch – almost.
Equally impressed was his son Steve Haire. “From a family point of view it is incredible that other members of our community step up to the plate to help and take care of patients with these acts of kindness,” says Haire. “Olga has lifted Dad’s spirits. She listens to his stories, which I have heard a hundred times, and that’s great too.”
Haire’s nurse, Laine Venner, RPN, noticed the difference in her senior patient as well. “I can see he’s so bright right now,” says Venner. “Volunteers are invaluable. I have four other patients to care for and there is no way I could leave the floor to go for a walk with Mr. Haire, but I know it’s so helpful to his recovery.”
Joukova cherishes the chance to interact with patients, while improving her English. In fact, her experience at RVH has got her thinking. “I was a flight attendant in Russia, and now I’m thinking I would like to become a nurse. They do such an important job helping people and I think I’d like to be a part of that.”
In the meantime, it’s back to Mr. Haire’s room. He knows a few words of Russian so he and Joukova are going to have a chat in her mother tongue. “Talking to the patients has taught me to be kinder, more patient and calm. They have changed me – in a good way.”
RVH Volunteers are also members of the RVH Auxiliary which raises funds for patient care. Café Royale and Victoria’s Gift Shop are businesses owned and operated by the RVH Auxiliary. They are major fundraising sources for the Auxiliary and over the past ten years they have earned more than $3,000,000.
“The Auxiliary relies on these two businesses and their staff and volunteers to enable us to make such significant contributions to improve patient care at RVH,” says Wayne Hubbard, president of the RVH Auxiliary.