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#NVW2021 - 'I lost someone so important to me to mental illness'

Stephen and his daughter
Published Date

I began volunteering at Ontario Shores nine years after overcoming a very difficult period in my life: my father’s suicide. I decided that following his tragedy, this would be a great way to give back to others struggling with mental illness.

My father was the type of man who would never ask for help, but would take his shirt off his back for a stranger. He was always so caring, compassionate and giving. His tragic death inspired me to help others and give back to the community.

I want people who are struggling with mental illness to know they will never go through their battles alone. There will always be someone who wants to hear their story. 

I felt like I could resonate with the patients at Ontario Shores. I lost someone so important to me to mental illness. That’s why I decided to devote as much time as I could to volunteering whether it be having coffee, watching TV, playing a game together or simply sharing a laugh. It’s incredible how impactful these engagements can be on their lives.

When COVID-19 restricted social gatherings, we knew we needed to do something to engage with the patients and make sure they knew we were still thinking about them despite not being able to join them in person.

It was a moment where we recognized that empathy is very important and that no one should go through this pandemic alone.

In May, we launched the Pen Pals of Hope initiative with the goal of sending letters back and forth each week to a patient. Me and my six year old daughter decided to make the experience a bit more special by incorporating unique crafts with our letters because we knew our pen pal loved artwork.

We wanted to ensure our crafts included something the patients could look forward to each month as a celebration for the event so we designed our crafts to incorporate the theme into our designs. For the holiday season we made snowflakes and for the rock and roll party we made 1950s themed crafts for them to hang in their units.

Being a pen pal is a creative, gratifying experience for myself and my daughter to be involved in and one that I am very grateful for.

Being a volunteer at Ontario Shores is important to me because I lost a loved one to mental illness. Volunteering is a special way for me to give back by connecting with people who are struggling and need someone to talk to and put a smile on their face.

Ontario Shores is a great place where recovery happens, good work is being done and lives are being saved. I hope that I am making an impactful experience on someone else’s road to recovery. I am honoured to be part of such a great team and I look forward to each day I spend with the patients, even if I cannot be there physically.

I will continue to support and advocate for Ontario Shores because everyone deserves a happy ending to their story.

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