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Serving up happiness

Hilltop House Support Society needs more volunteers to help enhance the lives of seniors

Joan Julien pushed an empty wheelchair into a small room.

"Are you coming for dinner?" she asked a woman who was lying on a bed, reading a novel.

"It's Friday?" the woman responded.

Friday is a big day at the Hilltop House. On Friday, members of Hilltop House Support Society make and serve a home-cooked meal at the 74-bed, multi-level care facility. The event is one of the most popular activities at the centre - that and bingo.

Julien started coming to the facility when her husband entered Hilltop. After his death, Julien kept returning as a volunteer. It took her a while before she felt comfortable visiting the patient ward because of the memories of her husband. But determined, Julien pushed through the discomfort. She saw the joy the program brought to the residents, she said.

Downstairs, in a large open space beside a sink and stove, Karyn Smith is busy preparing spaghetti Bolognese. Smith juggles telling jokes, inquiring about everyone's day and getting the food served as the 28 diners, one-by-one, find a spot at the tables. Smith's been doing this for two years, while some of the other women by her side have volunteered here for up to 19 years.

"Each of these people has a story to tell," Smith said of the residents. "I love all of them."

Started in 1992, the Hilltop House Support Society plays a vital role in the lives of those at the facility. The society organizes bingo, sets up fancy teas, makes and serves the Friday dinners, goes on shopping trips for the residents, and decorates the facility on holidays. It was the society that helped improve the facility's courtyard, bought the centre's first bus and organized volunteers to drive the vehicle.

The society sees its role as filling in the gaps, Smith said. Activities provided by Hilltop's staff end at 3 p.m. and don't take place on weekends or holidays, she noted. Right now, with approximately eight active members, the society is doing all it can to enhance the lives of residents, Smith said. But what is really needed is fresh blood.

"People have to get more involved," she said.

Volunteering can be as simple as bringing flowers to the centre or visiting with young children, Smith said, noting the place seems to light up when the pitter-patter of small feet can be heard in the facility. Any activity one can think of would be a welcome addition to the schedule, she added.

"It's a great place," Smith said. "It takes you 20 minutes to get down a hall because you are always stopping for hugs."

Betty Lloyd has been with the group since the beginning. The residents and their appreciation for the littlest things one does is her main reason for volunteering. As the volunteers themselves age, Lloyd fears the society will slowly disappear, a thought that brings her to tears.

"There are people who have gotten to the point they can't do this anymore," she said.

No experience is necessary to volunteer at Hilltop, as training is on-the-job style. Volunteers are able to choose their role, dates and times they wish to come to the centre. To volunteer at the facility, call (604) 892-9337 ext. 5 or email hthactivities@vch.ca. Volunteer applications can also be picked up at Hilltop.

Smith estimates 100 volunteers are needed. That would provide flexible hours for volunteers and provide Hilltop residents with activities from 3 to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

"You really do need a lot of people to make a volunteer service like this work," Smith said.

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