“We were just talking about how movie stars don’t wear enough clothes,” laughs Kathleen, a long-time resident of Three Links Care Centre, when I arrive to interview her and her volunteer visitor Mélanie Osorio-Mejia.
Kathleen and Mélanie have become close friends over their three years of weekly visits. “Kathleen is so welcoming. She always gives me a hug when I arrive and I know she cares about what I’m saying,” says Mélanie.
“I would have missed something if I hadn’t known Mélanie,” echoes Kathleen.
In a city where 30% of young people report feeling lonely on a regular basis, volunteering with seniors is as much a balm for the spirit of the volunteer as it is for the senior. “When I started volunteering, I thought I was just going to be listening to seniors. I didn’t realize I’d be sharing so much with them about my life,” says Mélanie.
Mélanie was named volunteer of the year in 2016 because of her extraordinary capacity to discover and amplify the positive in everyone around her. In addition to visiting with residents, she also mentors new volunteers, welcoming them to Three Links and guiding them through the sometimes awkward first stages of meeting a senior and starting a conversation.
Jeferson Silva used to be one of those unsure new volunteers. “Melanie was great as a mentor,’ he says. “She explained to me every single possible detail and the time flew in a very positive way. It’s been a while since I’ve felt such a good feeling of being able to help someone.”
Mélanie is currently in her last year of a Bachelor of Social Work at UBC. Her dream is to become a geriatric social worker, providing support to seniors and their families in long-term care. In addition to support, she hopes to bring attention to the fact that seniors are a vital part of our communities. “Seniors are often underestimated. They have so much knowledge and we need to value that more. I’ve discovered so many strengths in Kathleen.”