Volunteering for a lifetime

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Miss Jean Brewer still remembers her first day at Misericordia Health Centre (MHC) in Winnipeg. She started at Misericordia’s School of Nursing in 1944 at the suggestion of a friend, a local physician, who told her she’d be a good fit.

Nearly 50 years later, Miss Brewer still graces MHC’s halls and retains the title of “Miss” from her days as a nursing instructor, only these days her instructions are as a volunteer welcome ambassador to the Buhler Eye Care Centre.

Miss Brewer is just one of Misericordia’s long-time volunteers. Following her retirement from the School of Nursing, it was an easy decision to volunteer: “I came home.” That feeling of familiarity in Misericordia’s halls is what keeps many of our volunteers coming back.

Like Miss Brewer, recently retired volunteer Phyllis McDougall enjoyed the camaraderie she felt working at Misericordia. McDougall came to Canada in 1978 and was immediately hospitalized for a non-life-threatening health issue.

As groups of ladies visited room to room with flowers and candies, McDougall thought she would enjoy that kind of social activity. McDougall contacted the volunteer manager at Misericordia to start volunteering as soon as she was out of hospital herself.

She worked in many different areas from handing out candies and flowers, to registering patients; from the gift shop to human resources and she enjoyed every task. McDougall made many friends during her 32 years at MHC, including the Misericordia Sisters, the young women in human resources who related to her like a surrogate grandmother and her former manager – who also returned to volunteer following her retirement.

The warmth and courtesy of the Misericordia Sisters were additional incentives to both McDougall and Josie Meyer, who has been volunteering for 20 years. While non-Catholic McDougall appreciated the generous nature and the overall atmosphere of courtesy instilled by the Sisters, for Meyer working in a Catholic facility seemed natural. “I’ve always been involved in the Church,” says Meyer. “But coming to Misericordia to volunteer was something entirely new for me.”

To this day, Meyer says she still never receives phone calls on Wednesday mornings because her family and friends remember her volunteer commitment. Unlike McDougall’s variety of work at Misericordia, Meyer has been happy to stay with the gift shop throughout her service. “My background is in retail – we used to own our own business,” she says, noting she and her husband used to own a Bavarian meat shop before selling it to their son.

Like Miss Brewer, Meyer’s relationship with Misericordia predates her first day as a volunteer by many years. Being her community hospital, Meyer has experienced the full circle of life within Misericordia’s
walls – from the death of her parents to the births of two grandchildren. Add that Misericordia is a Catholic facility and it just made sense to her to volunteer here.

While these women from three very different backgrounds chose to serve at Misericordia, their motives were the same: they all wanted to make a meaningful contribution to their community while enjoying a sense of ownership they developed over their roles.

From the transition into retirement for both Miss Brewer and Meyer to the transition to a new home in Canada for McDougall, volunteering has empowered these women during a time of change in their lives. When the time comes that they can no longer continue to serve, Miss Brewer and Meyer acknowledge how difficult it will be to leave Misericordia.

Miss Brewer, 86, underwent heart surgery last November but was back volunteering again this fall. “I will be disappointed when I can’t come any longer,” she says. “But most people retire at 80!”

McDougall, who will be 90 on her next birthday, also regrets leaving her volunteer position but she recognizes it was time. “I’ve been volunteering here longer than some of those girls in human resources have been alive,” she says with a laugh. After over 70 years of collective service, these women sum up their advice to future volunteers in one sentence: Enjoy what you do; you’re truly making a difference.”