Ten years ago, the first Valued Elder Recognition Awards (VERA) were presented by the University of Victoria's Centre on Aging, marking the United Nations International Day of the Older Persons on October 1st and recognizing the decades of dedication given by seniors to the community. Nominated individuals have to have made an exemplary unpaid contribution to the Capital Regional District for a minimum of 10 years.
This year, from many nominations, three recipients were chosen, and each one said she was completely surprised and overwhelmed with the honour. Apart from their unfailing efforts being recognized and worthy of receiving the VERA award, each was adamant that meeting the others was a humbling and wonderful experience.
Lyne England is a volunteer for the Regional Family Council, Advocates for Care Reform, Saanich Peninsula Health Association and the Gordon Head Lions Club. As well, she lends her support to the South Island Health Coalition, the Mental Health Association and solicits funds for the Cancer Society.
The child of a war bride and military father, Lyne travelled all over the world, but she says, "We always came back to Vancouver Island." Her former career as a nursing instructor at Camosun College helps her navigate the medical system while volunteering. One of her roles is to help people understand the various governmental systems, like health care, and show them how to access aid. Or, for example, she may explain benefits, or answer questions about the Residential Tenancy Act. With access to the Internet, Lyne helps seniors search for information they need. "We may go to visit someone, if they cannot come to us," she says.
"We all do things for other people and when you do that you receive a gift," says Lyne of volunteering. "I feel happy and privileged that people allow me to enter into their lives, often at difficult times for them."
Liz Underwood is a volunteer for the World-Wide Healing initiative, and the girls' groups at Tsawout. In addition, she has assisted with youth lacrosse teams.
In the 1970s, with three sons and a husband involved in lacrosse, Liz naturally became involved and volunteered her time. Now, she works with young girls, usually 10-14 in a group, and her main aim is to instill the R word into their lives (R=Respect).
A residential school survivor, Liz spent her own youth being told what to do, and how to do it. Now an Elder, she feels young people today don't have any direction, and therefore was prompted to help her community. A hospital employee for 28 years, Liz wanted to continue helping people.
To her delight, a young girl recently told her, "Liz, you are my mentor. I am going to do a story on you for my school project. I want to be exactly like you."
Liz was amazed because young people usually emulate rock stars or singers, so for her it was a special honour.
Liz wishes more people would get involved and volunteer. "The more you know the more you want to help," she says, "and instead of mumbling behind everyone's back, go out there and do something about it. It doesn't take that much courage, besides, how do you know until you try?"
Josephine Wingerber is a long-time volunteer at the St. Elizabeth Church and the Catholic Women's League. She has also given her time to the Saint Vincent de Paul Thrift Store and, in Alberta, to the Cub Scouts and Girl Guides.
"It's not really a soup kitchen but rather a place where people can get food and companionship," says Josephine. And that's why she loves volunteering at what is called Friendly Hours. "We seem to have angels bringing in the food all the time," she says. "We never ask people for money, but it always seems to come."
By volunteering, Josephine says she made a better life for herself by getting out into her community. While raising five children, she was at home a lot and unable to work outside the home. "This is one reason I started to volunteer," she says, "because it got boring being at home all the time."
One of her most exciting volunteer roles was as a scout leader when she attended the Boy Scouts Jamboree in Kananaskis. "I had four sons," she laughs, and that's what led her to become involved in scouting.
Over 20 years as a volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store and over 20 years at Saanich Peninsula hospital, Josephine says she has learned a lot about people - and herself. Taking a course in palliative care was a valuable experience for Josephine. It gave her more confidence in her volunteer role because she used to be scared when someone died. She's not anymore.
The VERA award ceremony took place on October 1st, the United Nation's International Day of Older Persons. This year's three recipients were in awe of each other's accomplishments and delighted to be in each other's company and share in the recognition of their contributions.
Josephine sums it up, "I enjoyed meeting the other two recipients, they are such wonderful people, and we had a lot of fun with each other, including the university and the staff there at the Victoria Centre on Aging."
NOVEMBER 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
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