Volunteers make World Parkinson Congress a tremendous success

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While many volunteer programs centre around local areas and require long term commitment, this October the World Parkinson Congress was a great example of bringing together volunteers from around the world to support a unique event over four days, all within the impressive surrounds of the Palais des Congrès, Montreal.

The World Parkinson Congress (WPC) is the only international meeting of its kind, bringing together the entire spectrum of Parkinson’s disease – researchers, clinicians, people with Parkinson’s, allied health professionals and care partners. Designed to be inspiring and rejuvenating, the WPC allows people with Parkinson’s the world over, to meet and share their experiences and is an opportunity for scientists working on basic science in the lab to meet the people who will ultimately benefit from their efforts.

As the WPC is run by a charitable organization, the work of volunteers is vital to its success. The team behind the WPC engaged volunteers from around the world;  establishing a number of committees, including the newly launched WPC ‘Buddies’ program.
This year, a call for volunteers was made to support the delivery of the congress. Those who volunteered were asked to commit to five hours a day and the response was fantastic, with volunteers signing up from as far afield as New Zealand and Switzerland, as well as many Canadians, both from Montreal and across the country.

One local volunteer who has left a lasting legacy is Lucie Lachance, clinical nurse specialist at the Movement Disorder Clinic at the McGill University Health Centre. Lachance delivered awareness training for service staff including airport workers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, Palais des Congrès team members, hotel, and restaurant staff.

More than 1,000 of the 3,300 WPC attendees were people with Parkinson’s, so it was especially important to make sure that local staff and businesses understood this condition and could offer great service and understanding of their needs, helping ensure attendees could gain the full benefits of the congress, within a supportive and positive environment.

Another unique element of the volunteer group was that it included many people with Parkinson’s, who were ideally placed to understand the needs of attendees. One such volunteer was Cherry Vogt Ward, who had travelled all the way from Switzerland. Cherry described her time volunteering at the WPC as “a superb experience” which really added to her enjoyment of the congress, she also spoke about how it helped her “to [get to] know people much closer, really it was like a family,” an important aspect when travelling so far from home.

The volunteer group also included a number of students; including Danielle Murray ,  a second year researcher in the Neuroscience programme at the University of British Columbia. Danielle described the programme as “a good way to get to know the community and really fantastic to get to know people.” She found that she made connections with others in her field and with people with Parkinson’s, that she never would have met otherwise.

The volunteer program, while an amazing experience for those involved, also had huge benefits for those attending. Volunteer coordinator, Paul DeRoos commented on how the approximately 100 volunteers, “provided a link between conference organizers, the event team and conference participants”. Mags Mullarney who has Parkinson’s herself and is founder of Irish charity

Move4Parkinson’s, travelled to Montreal with a group of twenty people. For Mags, the volunteers were a significant part of her WPC experience. “The volunteers were just amazing. Anywhere we looked you would see an orange t-shirt and someone smiling and ready to answer questions, offer directions or just say hi! Travelling with such a big group it was really important to us that everyone was looked after and knowing there was so much support available made it easy for us to relax and just enjoy the congress and soak up all of the knowledge and experience on offer.”