In the lives of volunteers anything can happen—even miracles

April 19 to 25 is National Volunteer Week

"I've seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives."
—Tracy Chapman

She is petite. She is beautiful. She is an angel in the eyes of many. She is a volunteer who is helping make a difference. Elizabeth Macdonnell is just one of approximately 420 volunteers who generously devote their time at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Over the last year they selflessly gave 22,324 hours.

“Volunteering really brings me hope in humanity,” says Bertrand Dupuis, MCH interim Volunteer Coordinator. “I hear wonderful stories in their motivations every single day.”

In Bertrand’s eyes, all of the volunteers are special, bringing their own ingredient to the recipe of volunteering. One such person is Elizabeth. She has given over 1,000 hours to the children of the MCH since she started volunteering 25 years ago.  As the Atwater Branch librarian of The Montreal Children's Library, she has a special interest in books and reading. “My mom was a librarian and she read to me every night,” says Elizabeth. “My appreciation for books has been a lifelong love affair.”

So, it is no wonder that first, she is a librarian, and second she spends her volunteer time reading to children. But she doesn’t just read—she animates her stories, interpreting them for the kids. Often Elizabeth will recite from heart a child’s story using every facial expression at her disposal, her arms, and her voice. “Each Monday I go to the MCH to read to the kids in the dialysis unit,” says Elizabeth. “In the past I have also done storytelling on 2B, the neurology ward, and the NICU.”

She will read to children what they like. But in some cases children are not able to tell her what they want for various health-related reasons. One such case involves a young girl who had a malignant brain tumour.

Although this young girl was unconscious, Elizabeth read to her for two months. “In circumstances like this I choose whatever inspires me at that moment,” says Elizabeth. “I find this is the best way to do it, whatever tweaks my emotion at the time will move me and as a result I will deliver the story better.”

One day when Elizabeth came in to read to the young girl, she was told that the parents chose to take her home as there was nothing more that could have been done for their daughter. They wanted her to die peacefully at home. But as miracles sometimes happen—a miracle did happen. Not long after returning to her home on the East Coast, the girl's tumour started to shrink, until it completely disappeared. When she was well enough to travel the young girl's parents brought her back to the MCH, where Elizabeth was finally able to see her eyes, hear her voice and relish in her smile. “It was a very special moment,” says Elizabeth.

We would like to say thank you to Elizabeth and to all of our other generous volunteers for creating your own special moments at The Children’s--for the children--every day. You truly are angels disguised as ordinary people living ordinary lives.

Volunteering Programs at the MCH:

On the wards: volunteers visit patients to provide company and creativity.

'Wait for me, I'm playing' Program: volunteers provide children with opportunities to learn and discover through play in a waiting room setting.

'Help me find my way in Emergency' Program: volunteers greet families as patients enter the Emergency Department and help control patient flow by directing the parents and patients to the appropriate destination.

Physiotherapy Department: volunteers entertain siblings, welcome patients, wash toys, assist with data entry and general office work.

Day Surgery: volunteers escort families to the operating room, provide comfort and support to parents while their child is undergoing surgery.

Hematology-oncology and hemodialysis clinics: volunteers encourage children to play together or by themselves according to their needs. Volunteers also help keep the play areas tidy and welcoming.

Clerical settings: volunteers assist administrative staff with clerical work, computer, and filing.

Reading Programs: As part of other literacy promotion activities at the MCH,  volunteers read books to children in clinic waiting rooms (Imagine: Lire/Read Program), and model reading for their parents as well, and deliver books to hospitalized children on the wards (Biblio Express).