Volunteer Victoria’s Mental Health Visiting and Activity Program matches community volunteers with individuals living within Island Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use residential services. Volunteers play a key role in reducing isolation by providing companionship to a resident by going out for a coffee, attending a community event, playing a card game or simply visiting on a regular basis. Volunteers also engage residents in small group activities such as arts and crafts, gardening, wellness, fitness or yoga. Volunteers and residents are matched according to their compatibility, interests, locations and time availability. As a volunteer this is an excellent opportunity to develop an understanding of mental illness and to support someone to achieve their recovery goals. Orientation and supervision is provided jointly by Volunteer Victoria and Island Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use staff.
As teenager, Leah Luckhurst was very interested in writing, and always kept a journal. When she was hospitalized – and without her journal – she would find tiny pieces of paper – and even paper napkins – to help capture her thoughts and ideas. As time went on, Leah, who lives with schizophrenia, realized that she would really like to have somebody help her to expand her writing. She requested a volunteer through Volunteer Victoria’s Volunteer Access Recreation/Visiting Program: a VIHA-funded initiative that matches volunteers with people living in residential housing.
Over a year later, Rebecca Kennel chanced upon the request for a “creative writing volunteer.” “I was looking for something in mental health,” Rebecca said. “…mental illness seems so widespread in our society, so visible…I wanted to learn more. Since I was actively involved in writing, this seemed like a perfect fit.” Rebecca had no idea what she had just signed up for. In the time since Leah had first requested a volunteer, she had become focused on writing stand-up comedy. Rebecca admits, “I didn’t know anything about writing stand-up comedy – and all of a sudden I’m helping Leah to write it. Neither one of us knew what we were doing…and then to see her take that material and stand-up on the stage and deliver it – I was proud that I had a little part in it.”
Fast forward three and a half years, and Leah is still expanding her creative repertoire. She performs for “Stand Up for Mental Health,” has explored cartooning and is making beautiful beaded jewellery, which Rebecca has encouraged her to market. Leah proudly states that “Rebecca offers me a “Zen” perspective – she’s become very special to me. I didn’t realize how special she would become when I first met her.” This is just one of the many heart-warming stories that we hear, and that volunteers get to experience, when taking part in our programs.
Volunteer Victoria is so appreciative of the many caring volunteers in our community – like Rebecca – who are making such a critical difference in the lives of others. Thanks to our partners and funders, Island Health (VIHA) for helping to make this program possible.