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Volunteer appreciation event held at Kamsack Nursing Home

“Volunteers have compassion and the ability to be nonjudgmental as all feel welcome and part of our family,” Karen Rubletz, recreation co-ordinator, said during the volunteer appreciation event held at the Kamsack Nursing Home on April 26.

            “Volunteers have compassion and the ability to be nonjudgmental as all feel welcome and part of our family,” Karen Rubletz, recreation co-ordinator, said during the volunteer appreciation event held at the Kamsack Nursing Home on April 26.

            “We consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have a fantastic team of dedicated and passionate volunteers,” Rubletz said.

            “Volunteers provide hospitality to our residents; assist with transporting to activities; taking residents for walks; delivering and reading mail, books and stories; making phone calls; playing cards; doing puzzles, and chatting,” she said. “They help us with crafts, encourage resident skills and interests such as planting, music or pets. Volunteers console people.

            “The compassion you show to the people you serve is an inspiration to all,” she said. “I’ve noticed how you treat everyone with respect and kindness, no matter the situation. We know how stressful it can be for the people to find themselves in need of the services we provide and your words and actions go a long way toward helping them keep their dignity.

            “I need you to know that your work has not gone unnoticed. Thank you for all you do of your free will and time from the residents and staff here at Kamsack Nursing Home.”

            The event began with a welcome and introduction of the guest speakers and staff.

            Debbra Riehl, the assistant manager of the facility, read a volunteers’ poem and on behalf of management thanked all the volunteers “for all the hard work you do year round.”

            In an “ice-breaker” session, Patty Witzko, a recreation worker and Rubletz read humorous horoscopes for each astrological sign.

            “At a time when we, as individuals and as a country, are celebrating Canada’s history and future, it is near impossible to not consider the role that volunteers, either formally or informally, have played in the past 150 years, and no doubt will play in the years that follow,” said Suzette Szumutku, regional director of volunteer resources staff. “Volunteerism simply seems to be “in our DNA!

            “The traditions upon which Canada was built, from the time it became known as Kanata (meaning village or settlement in the Huron-Iroquois language) have surely influenced the development of our spirit of volunteerism,” Szumutku said. “It is part of our history from the very beginning, it has truly been built into our DNA, and it started a long time ago, longer than 150 years ago.

“In the early days of European settlement in Canada, pioneer families depended on each other to survive and prosper, pulling together to help one another in times of need.  They combined efforts to clear land, build houses and barns, harvest crops, make quilts and spin wool for clothing.

“As Canada became the country we celebrate today, charitable organizations began to provide support to the sick and the poor,” she said. “At that time, direct government assistance was virtually non-existent.

Volunteers, mainly from religious charities, helped the underprivileged in many ways. They delivered food and firewood, ran soup kitchens and depots for clothing, furniture and tools. They visited sick and disabled people in institutions and their homes; they helped the unemployed find jobs.

Following deadly epidemics like cholera and typhoid in the 1800s, volunteers provided support to penniless widows and orphaned children.

“By 1900, tuberculosis was the main cause of death in Canada.  Many of us remember TB and the crusade that was mounted. That crusade led to the birth of Canada’s first national health care voluntary organization (the CDN Tuberculosis Association).  It provided facilities such as residential sanatoriums and centres for diagnosis and treatment in the care of TB patients.  In spite of the risks, volunteers got involved to help, voluntarism was already established in our DNA.

“In the early decades of the 20th century, social reformers worked to encourage government efforts to improve the health and well-being of Canadian children. They addressed the high rate of infant mortality, poor pre-natal care, the lack of support for mothers in caring for their babies, and the impurity of milk and water supplies.

“Then came the stock market crash in 1929 and the economic collapse that followed, and a seven-year drought on the Prairies. During that decade of hardship, people across the country were left without the means to obtain food, shelter and proper clothing.

“It fell to caring individuals, religious groups, and voluntary organizations to provide relief for the hungry and homeless during the 1930s. Volunteer groups sprang up across the country. Soup kitchens and bread lines were established; clothing was collected and distributed to the needy; various missions provided shelter for homeless men. All of these activities depended on massive volunteer energy and DNA.

“Cancer drew public attention during this period. In 1938, the Canadian Cancer Society was founded to educate about the vital importance of early detection and treatment.

“And let’s not forget two world wars that demonstrated the ability of Canadians to respond in times of crisis. Around 1.1 million Canadians served in the First World War (at a time when) the country’s population was just under eight million.

“During 1939-1945, more than 40 per cent of the male population between the ages of 18 and 45, virtually all of them volunteers, enlisted. More than 630,000 Canadians served in the active army; 25,251 were women. The word ‘volunteer’ was used in a different capacity, but it spoke of responsibility and response and the desire and willingness to do what they could.  It was in their DNA.

“Those wars also brought unprecedented co-operation between organizations. St. John Ambulance volunteers were actively involved in maintaining civilian warning systems and training local citizens in survival techniques.

  “Overseas, volunteers with the Canadian Red Cross worked to provide relief to civilian victims in war-torn countries. Volunteers from both organizations served in air raid shelters, prisoner of war camps and mobile surgical units, as well as in both military and civilian hospitals in Europe and East Asia.

“War-time volunteers put in long and difficult hours of service to sick and wounded soldiers returning to Canada for rehabilitation or convalescence.

“And that doesn’t even address the many kind and unacknowledged volunteer acts in the homes of all Canadians. My mother used to speak of making up packages to send to soldiers or donating food stamps, other people talk about sewing clothes for babies and children overseas, or knitting socks for soldiers on the front.

“From the 1890s onward, Canadian volunteers played an important role in bringing about social change. They advocated on behalf of retired citizens who were no longer able to support themselves. Women’s groups fought for legal equality for women, including the right to vote.

“Shortly after Confederation, programs began to address the educational needs of working people across Canada, particularly immigrants and others who had little or no opportunity for education.

“During the great flu epidemic of 1918, volunteers from St. John Ambulance served in hospitals and cared for the sick in their homes. In several small communities, volunteers took complete charge of the hospitals when the entire staff was stricken with the flu.

“In Alberta, St. John volunteers were sent to a coal mining settlement where the entire group of miners had come down with the deadly infection. In between nursing their patients, these volunteers chopped wood for the fires and cleaned the bunkhouses.

“By 1920 enormous changes in social welfare began to happen. Governments established various financial aid programs for First World War veterans who were unable to find employment after their return, and for widows and orphaned children of soldiers.

“The government established Old Age Security allowances in 1927. Unemployment insurance came later in 1940.

“In 1947, the Canadian Red Cross, supported by volunteers from the St. John Ambulance, started a system of blood donor clinics to supply blood and blood products free of charge to patients in all Canadian hospitals.

            “In the early 1970s, groups for the rights of disabled individuals joined together to promote policies that would allow disabled children and adults the opportunity to live, learn, work and play in `normal' surroundings. Group homes and local training centres were established.

            “No matter that governments responded more and more to addressing needs – there was always work for volunteers to do.

            “In the latter part of the last century, volunteers responded to new forms of unmet needs -- food banks, soup kitchens, meals-on-wheels, emergency shelters, transition homes for abused women and their children, sexual assault crisis centres, telephone hotlines, and drop-in centres to help street kids.

            “One of the most serious medical crises of the late 1980s and early 1990s  was presented by AIDS. New volunteer groups formed to lobby for public education and increased funding for research, to organize support groups for people with AIDS, and to advocate for their human rights.

            “Wherever people come together in large numbers, whether at huge events like the Calgary Stampede, the Olympics, the Briar, Roughrider games, or at the host of smaller fairs, sports events or other special events in communities across the country, volunteers can be found.

            “Today’s voluntary sector is responding to some of the same concerns from years and centuries past.  Governments that had responded to social needs are running up against budgetary constraints and are cutting-back. I have no doubt that volunteers will, once again, rise to the occasion, work tirelessly, and have tremendous impact. It’s in their DNA! Because of their hard work and their commitment, the values of fairness and equality have become firmly entrenched in our social values. It really is in our DNA!

“Over the years, I’ve shared with you the tremendous generosities and successes of our Sunrise Health Region Volunteers. Like those who came before you, your contributions to the country we celebrate this year are awe-inspiring. You’ve identified the issues, accepted the challenge of change, and responded whole-heartedly to the need.

“This year, our health region again faces challenge and change as we move toward amalgamation to one provincial region. There will be new (and continuing old) needs that we hope you will meet with the same generosity of spirit and caring hands.

“Our volunteer appreciation gift to you this year celebrates you: the volunteers to whom we are grateful for, and to whom we will look, in the challenging time to come.

“We proudly display on your gift - for the last time - our health region’s logo, and hope that the gift will be a reminder to you of good service and committed relationships with you and our patients, residents, clients and staff.

“On behalf of the Sunrise Health Region, it is my pleasure to share with you our appreciation, and our wishes for continuing partnerships – under a different name – but in the same caring environment.

“Canada 150 is about celebrating people like you. I have no doubt that 150 years from now, when generations to come mark Canada 300, they will look back and count your services and the challenges you faced and overcame. No doubt, there will still be need, hopefully the DNA will have been passed on, I am confident that it will be, and there will be ample response.