Celebrating volunteers

Roger Spink, director of volunteer services Sonya Jahn, Gary Curts, Lilly Koenig and Amber Bear participate in a tree planting ceremony Friday to mark national Volunteer Week. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

It was a little chilly and there was more snow on the ground than usual, but that didn’t stop the Saskatchewan Health Authority Volunteer Services branch and several volunteers from gathering by the Prince Albert visitor’s centre Friday for their annual tree planting ceremony.

The ceremony is done each year in honour of national volunteer week, as a way to say thank you to the thousands who help out in the health system each year.

With the snow and ice on the ground, Friday’s ceremony was symbolic only. The actual tree will be planted once the weather warms up a little.

For volunteer services director Sonya Jahn, it’s important to celebrate the volunteers and their commitment to the health region.

“I really appreciate them so much,” she said.

“National Volunteer Week is an opportunity not only to celebrate our volunteers in communities across Canada, It’s also a way to raise awareness of how people can get involved in our community and make a difference.”

Jahn oversees about 3,500 volunteers over a wide geographic area, including Hafford, Big River, Spiritwood, Leoville, Kinistino, Birch Hills, Canwood, Candle Lake, Prince Albert and more. It’s the same geographic area covered by the former Prince Albert Parkland Health Region. Thanks to those volunteers, the lives of patients and residents cared for by the Saskatchewan Health Authority are made that much better.

“We have volunteers working in acute care, long term care, primary care and public health. They are making a huge difference in the lives of our clients, and also working to achieve the mission and vision of our health region,” she said.
“It is vital to have volunteers helping out because they provide those extras staff can’t get to. Working together as a team, staff and volunteers ultimately provide the best care possible for people we serve in our community.”

Lilly Koenig may only be 17, but she was the longest-serving volunteer present Friday. She’s been giving her time in various capacities for seven years. She got involved because she was bored and looking for something to do.

“I thought it would be a fun way to get involved in the health field and see what kind of things I could do later on in my future,” she said.

Koenig is one of the members of the youth volunteer program. She does everything from serving ice water to patients and residents, to helping feed them, participating in friendly visiting and helping with the painting program.

“There are a whole lot of things you can do for anyone interested in anything,” she said.

“The best part is getting to meet a whole bunch of different people and getting to hear their stories, and getting to meet people of all different ages, whether they are other youth volunteers, whether they are patients or residents, and having all of their life stories to tell us.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Roger Spink. He’s only been volunteering for about a year, and got involved after he retired.

“I volunteer at the hospital twice a week,” he said. “I absolutely love it.”

Spink said he plans to help out as long as he’s still breathing. He likes seeing the different people who come in to get treatment, as well as the other volunteers. He’s been trying to get some of his friends involved, but nobody has committed just yet.

Amber Bear, another relatively new volunteer, also said she enjoys helping people and keeping busy.

“It’s always rewarding,” she said. “They show their appreciation, it’s a really great job.”

The people are what keep Gary Curts involved. He’s been volunteering at Birch Hills and Pineview for six years. He got started because his mother was living in the Birch Hills home. He got to know all the staff and residents, driving the bus for them and running the canteen.

“They are (pretty appreciative),” he said.

“You get to know all the residents and they appreciate it. So that makes me feel good too. It’s something I’ll continue doing as long as I can.”

Curts encouraged everyone to get involved, no matter their interest or time commitment.

“It’s strictly whatever you can do. Your hours are flexible. if you can’t make it certain days, you call them and let them know. It’s very rewarding as far as I’m concerned.”

Getting involved was also the message Jahn wanted to get across. Even though the health region in this area has thousands of volunteers, there is still room for more.

“We are always looking for volunteers,” she said.

“It sounds like we have an impressive number, but we have people who go away for the winter and people who head to the lake for the summer, yet we need to ensure those vacancies are filled. With that, there’s a constant need.”

She said opportunities include helping with meals on wheels, providing support to newly diagnosed cancer patients through the peer navigator program, as well as help for the palliative care and recreation programs.

“There’s something that can be tailored to each and every person,” she said, “based on their interest and what they want to get involved with.”

To volunteer, call 306-765-6010.