Volunteer Victoria’s Mental Health Visiting and Activity Program matches community volunteers with individuals on a mental health and/or substance use journey. Many of the clients live within Island Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use residential services. Volunteers play a key role in reducing isolation by providing companionship to residents. Volunteering can look like going out for a coffee, attending a community event, playing a card game or simply visiting with a resident on a regular basis. 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.
I come from a family of closely knit individuals, who in spite of having multitudes of differences in beliefs always support and encourage each other. The values I was nurtured with, having been brought up in a culturally diverse country like India, has taught me how to survive in a foreign land and to appreciate the many cultural differences that overwhelmed my judgment. I feel like I have been fortunate enough to have been provided with many a chance to give back to the community that shaped me into the person I am today. Moving to Canada, and suddenly becoming a part of a community that I wasn’t really exposed to, or understood the scope of, was indeed a major life changing moment. What felt natural to me in overcoming the hardships put forth by the pandemic was believing that I can still help people in the little ways I know how. I consciously strived to educate myself and others around me to understand people’s physical and emotional needs and make them feel comfortable. Once I realised that I enjoyed building therapeutic relationships with people, I applied for a volunteering position in March 2021 to work with people battling mental illnesses. I signed up with Volunteer Victoria for being a part of the Mental Health Visiting & Activity Program. I started my time at Greenridge place by meeting with an individual from the group residence and spending time getting to know them and their interests. Over the course of a few months, I found myself transforming into a better person, learning from the demanding challenges that life has to offer. One incident that startled me was during one of my evening walks with a resident in the month of September 2021. The resident noticed my silence and asked if anything was bothering me. I told them that the Fall season with all its dead leaves and barren trees is unsettling. To which they replied, “There would be no Spring blossoms without this initial cessation. But hey, it’s just a minor bump. Things can only go uphill from here.” No amount of treasure in this world can match the feeling of positive radiance I experienced that day. It has been extremely rewarding to have been a part of many great organizations, working together with amazing people who instilled in me a great sense of responsibility towards the community. Being on the forefront of change and having a strategic reflection of one’s own achievements and failures is very crucial for self-actualization. I am looking forward to the next phase of my life wherein I hope to continue my journey fighting for inclusion and diversity in our community.