Volunteers: The Art of Caring


When Allan O’Marra began his semi-retirement he knew he was at a stage in his life where he wanted to share his time and art expertise. As a seasoned artist, Allan has been participating in the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores) art shows since 2009 and has submitted a number of art pieces.

“I was astonished with the scope and scale of Ontario Shores and the art gallery,” says Allan. “I wanted to involve myself in this organization where I could use my art and psychotherapy training background to help others.”

Ontario Shores launched an art program in 2008 to raise awareness of mental health and addictions and promote art education. This program hosts art exhibitions throughout the year to inspire patients in developing their artistic interests, support local artists and bring the community together. There is also an art gallery in Ontario Shores’ Conference Place that showcases beautiful artwork from patients, staff and local artists.

After Allan’s experience with the art gallery, he wanted to do more. He understands the important role of volunteers, especially in hospitals, so he explored the opportunity of becoming a volunteer.

Allan has volunteered at Ontario Shores for over a year now. He assists with art instruction for patients in a weekly program. Patients with all levels of artistic abilities attend the program and are provided with individualized support and direction. They learn basic drawing skills, painting techniques and how to mix paint colours.

“Every week something truly beautiful happens,” says Allan. “Patients learn or create something and their faces look at me and say wow I can do this!”

As patients expand their artistic ability, they move into other modes of personal expression. They draw, paint or sculpt and are supported as they improve their skills.

Laroldina attends Allan’s art class every week. “Art helps me express my feelings and thoughts in a personal way,” says Laroldina. “Allan is very nice and he has taught me a lot so far. I am able to draw, paint and colour.”

Every spring, Ontario Shores holds an annual volunteer appreciation dinner to recognize the contributions and years of service of its volunteers. This year, Allan was named the inaugural winner of the newest award, Volunteer of the Year. He was recognized for his dedication, compassion and outstanding artistic achievements with the patient art program.

“My time at Ontario Shores has been wonderful. There are such warm and outgoing connections between staff and patients. I feel really comfortable here and it is wonderful to see patients show such amazing courage and create something that is so personal.”

As an accomplished artist, Allan has held 28 solo art shows, participated in 40 group art shows and has juried a number of art shows. He also writes a monthly column for a local community paper that profiles local artists.

The art therapy program is one of the many ways volunteers support patient care at Ontario Shores. The Volunteer Program provides a drop in centre, clothing and gift shop, pet therapy and patient activity cart. Volunteers also support vocational programming such as tutoring services, computer skills training, and gardening programs. There are also a number of volunteers actively involved in the Research and Knowledge Translation Department. For more information about the Volunteer Association, please visit ontarioshores.ca.