Jim O’Neill’s favourite day of the week is Friday. This isn’t because the weekend is around the corner, though; every Friday he goes to the Misericordia Community Hospital, where he and volunteer Neil Ward make the rounds with the book cart to distribute reading material to patients.
“I told everyone that’ll listen at work, all the bosses, that they can do anything with me, can send me anywhere, so long as they don’t change my Fridays,” he says. “I have to be here on Fridays.” Jim works for Chrysalis, an organization that provides personalized services to assist people with disabilities in achieving their employment, volunteer and recreation goals. Neil has a profound hearing loss, is legally blind and is primarily non-verbal.
Giving back to the Misericordia has deep personal meaning for both men. Neil and Jim have each been patients in the past. After a serious car accident, Jim was hospitalized for nine days and spent the next two and a half months recovering. Neil has been a patient and outpatient over a number of years, with medical staff helping to treat his complex issues and needs.
“This is special for me, because I appreciated the volunteers so much when I was a patient here. It made such a difference to have someone come by just to see if you needed something new to read,” Jim says.
“This opportunity means so much because while I was here I had a strong feeling of, ‘Geez, I wish I could do something.’ And funnily enough…” he says, trailing off with a smile.
Neil may enjoy this duty even more, though. “His big smile while working with Jim is evidence that he’s coping well and enjoying giving back,” says his mother, Pip Ward.
Neil has had some challenges with volunteering over the past number of years, due to his health issues and complex needs. But he has persevered in his volunteering role with the Misericordia and Chrysalis.
“He’s thankful for the opportunity,” says Pip, “and if he could speak, would likely say, ‘Long may this continue.’”
“Being here on Fridays gives me a sense of giving back to the hospital, for what they did for me," says Jim. "Neil loves it, too. The treatment of our volunteers is fantastic. The volunteer office obviously treats us well, but it’s also the doctors, the nurses—everyone.”
“I’m grateful for all those that took care of me. Everyone was treated with dignity no matter what they were going through,” Jim says. “I have such a deep sense of gratitude for this group of volunteers and this community. When you're working with individuals and volunteers who may need extra support, it can be easy for others to assume it's difficult. But no one at Chrysalis or the Misericordia has ever thought that. Andrew Carnegie once said that you find the best in people just like you would mine gold: You remove tons and tons of dirt to get there. I’m so grateful that I work with people and volunteers that come to the Misericordia every day not looking at the dirt, but mining for the gold.”
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