Couple keeps well through volunteering

Retired couple Elise and Stan Shepherd look forward to Mondays, when they work for free.

The Shepherds wake up, have breakfast together in their Handsworth area home and then go their separate ways into the community to volunteer. At dinnertime the couple will reunite to swap tales of their days spent helping other seniors with blood pressure checks and woodworking projects.

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Elise has it been at it for 30 years – volunteering, that is – with North Shore Keep Well Society.

The goal of the seniors’ drop-in program, offered at eight sites from Parkgate to Dundarave and sustained by more than 100 volunteers, is to encourage and help seniors stay healthy by leading active and independent lives. The two-hour program includes an exercise session, blood pressure checks, health coaching, massage, guest speakers and social time.

For Elise, the road to volunteering started with a phone call from a friend. She learned Keep Well was in need of a volunteer with a nursing background to take the seniors’ blood pressure. Elise thought: “How hard could that be, and why not?”

“I took blood pressures one week and then I’ve been there ever since,” says Elise with a laugh.

The retired nurse recalls enjoying everyone she met that first day, which is what inspired her to stay on for three decades.

“I’ve meet so many people over the years – not only the volunteers but the people who come to the program. The participants have been quite an inspiration,” explains Elise.

Elise has offered an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on for seniors who, once they reach a certain age, have endured some form of hardship – be it the loss of a spouse, financial troubles or a serious illness.

“I realize in spite of hardships and losses in people’s lives, they carry on and do the best they can and put on a positive face – and that’s inspired me,” says Elise.

Staying in good health and being supported by the Keep Well volunteers contributes to strong mental and physical health for the seniors.

“A lot of them are retired health professionals,” explains Elise of the volunteers’ backgrounds.

The free blood pressure checks for seniors are important. The volunteer writes the numbers on a card for the senior to later show their doctor – as part of their health assessment. It might be a Keep Well volunteer who first spots the high blood pressure and advises the senior to see their doctor as soon as possible.

Light shoulder, hand and foot massages by volunteers make the seniors – there are more than 500 Keep Well participants – feel special.

“A lot of our people coming live alone and they never get a hug,” explains Elise of the importance of human connection.

There have been fewer foot massages lately because trained volunteers in the field of reflexology are hard to find.

“We’d love to have new volunteers and we do provide training with the massage and how to be a good listener,” says Elise.

Stan, meanwhile, after some gentle nudging from his wife, started volunteering in the woodshop at the West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre five years ago.

As a supervisor in the program, Stan, a retired electrical engineer and woodworking enthusiast, assists other seniors who might not be familiar with the heavy duty tools and teaches them something in the process.

“I have been able to help some people with specific problems which is always satisfying,” says Stan. “I find I can often learn something new from others as well. I have also learned to use many power tools that I had not had a chance to work with before.”

Stan sees his volunteer role at the seniors’ centre as a win-win.

“I enjoy working in the shop and working with the people in the program,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot and there’s still more to learn. It also gives me an opportunity to do special projects especially in winter when our garage is too cold to work in.”

Among the wood items Stan has made include a murphy bed with shelves for the couple’s home, a garden shed, cutting boards and trays.

Many who take part in the program live in apartments and don’t have a workshop. This gives them a space at the seniors’ centre to spread out.

“There are some amazing things being produced by some of the people in the program, from eclectic birdhouses to furniture to various lathe-turned items,” explains Stan. “A number of participants have impressed me with their natural talent.”

Elise is happy to see Stan being social and making friends at the seniors’ centre.

“He looks forward to it,” she says. “I’m glad he’s got this interest now.”

Anyone interested in volunteering with North Shore Keep Well can contact the society at keepwellsociety@telus.net or 604-988-7115, ext. 27.

Learn more about volunteering at the West Vancouver Community Centre on their website, westvancouver.ca/be-involved/volunteer-opportunities-west-van.

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