When Hollie joined the Board of Directors at Fife House this year, getting to know the organization well was important to her. That meant connecting with the people Fife House provides safe and affordable housing to on a more personal level. Beginning visits with Stevie her Therapy dog seemed a natural fit.
Stevie was certified in January 2013 as a Therapy Dog with St John Ambulance.
Since April 2013 Hollie and Stevie have been visiting Fife House’s Sherbourne location. Specifically, they join Fife House clients as they participate in a client-run volunteer program called ‘The Breakfast Club.’ In Hollie’s own words, “In these few months I’ve seen some remarkable things.”
The objective of ‘The Breakfast Club’ is to provide clients an opportunity to get out and socialize, get to know and chat with each other twice a week while enjoying a coffee and something to eat.
Hollie says, “This is Stevie’s favourite place, she enjoys it most. I can tell because her tail is up highest as we come in here… and she drags me into the building. And the clients really enjoy Stevie. For example, there is a lady who is in a wheelchair who likes it when Stevie jumps up on her lap. She lights right up, smiles and seems to engage more with others because of Stevie.”
There are many other positive experiences Hollie and Stevie have had or have seen by attending ‘The Breakfast Club’. One Tuesday morning in the spring an elderly woman named Betty* was having trouble differentiating the past from the present and was crying quietly from fear and disorientation. She was comforted by a resident, Jack, from the Transitional Housing Program on the 3rd floor. Jack took her hands and gently rubbed her forearms. He didn’t speak; he was simply there with her. Betty calmed down and smiled at Jack. He smiled back.
Betty isn’t doing so well now. Another client has taken Betty under her wing, making sure she has groceries and medicines. Unfortunately, she doesn’t move very well either, but she’s younger and in better shape that Betty.
Another example of clients helping each other is related to the 12th floor outdoor garden which is a green paradise in downtown Toronto. “All through the summer Stevie and I visited out there. One Fife House client organized planting the garden and has taught people how and when to harvest. Residents shared how they used the delicious cherry tomatoes and herbs they have planted and cared for themselves in their meals.” reflects Hollie.
“I’ve seen the camaraderie among the gang that sits outside the front door, sharing smokes and stories and laughs,” says Hollie. “They love to visit with Stevie and she loves them right back. I worry about people when I don't see them. When I ask about a regular who isn’t there the rest always know where he or she is. These people know each other and care for each other.”
Hollie continues, “I’ve heard about challenges getting into physiotherapy. Frustration with doctors that can’t figure out what is causing the pain. I literally see change from one Tuesday to the next. And every single Tuesday, Stevie and I are greeted with smiles and sometimes hugs. I see friends sharing their lives.“
Hollie adds in a tone that expresses pride for the people she has met, “It’s very humbling volunteering at Fife House. Because of these experiences I am more grateful for what I have – and I am amazed at peoples’ resilience, how they find happiness and how they support each other. They benefit from each other and their friendships matter.”
*All names changed to protect privacy