My name is Jennifer Gelberger and I have had the privilege of serving as a Volunteer and Family Event coordinator at Chai Lifeline since October 2013. People often ask if my job is “depressing” since I see so many sick children, but the reality is just the opposite. My job allows me to see the best in people through the worst of times: arranging a visit for a sick child in the hospital and bringing toys to that child and his siblings; setting up volunteer big brothers and sisters; organizing home-made meals for families in crisis; picking up prescriptions; driving people to medical appointments; coordinating overnight hospital shifts; and planning events to provide some much needed respite for families facing such immense challenges. Allow me to share but a few examples of the wonderful people I get to meet and the blessed deeds I get to experience on a daily basis.
We have a diverse group of volunteers, ranging in age from high school students to retirees, from all parts of the city and from all walks of life. I am always meeting fascinating people and my task is to find a way to best utilize each volunteer based on his or her experience, skill set, interest and availability. One of my favorite “matchmaking” stories came about after interviewing a couple who had both recently retired. The woman was a paedatric nurse and was looking to use that expertise to help a medically fragile child. Naturally, she was very easy to set up. Her husband, on the other hand, was a lawyer and felt he didn’t have much to offer. Jokingly, his wife mentioned that he was an avid poker player. Could that be useful, she inquired? Well – by the end of the meeting we had him set up for a weekly poker game at the hospital with a teen boy… to help distract him while he was getting chemo! This elderly man and teen hit it off and enjoyed each other’s company for several months.
I have put out requests for things that I would never imagine anyone would take on, let alone as an unpaid task – often at the very last minute. And, yet, I get responses! One such example is a volunteer I had “on call” for 6 weeks, every night. There was a family with a child who had a rare form of cancer and had to go to the US for treatment. This left a single parent at home with the other children, one of whom had a serious seizure disorder which often landed him in the ER (at all hours of the night). The parents expressed concern to their Chai Lifeline case manager about how they would be able to leave the other children at home while rushing the child to the ER. I called one of our outstanding volunteers and explained the situation and, without hesitation, she agreed to be their “on call person”. She went to the house, met the parents and kids, and the parents were instantly at ease knowing they could rely on this total stranger simply because she was a Chai Lifeline volunteer.
I recently put out a request at around 8:30 am asking if anyone could drop off a mother at Sick Kids at 9 am, and drive her elderly mother back home after having spent the night in the hospital with her sick grandson. Grandma did not have a cellphone, making coordination and communication that much more complicated. A wonderful volunteer quickly responded and took care of the rides. Later that day I saw I had a missed call from the volunteer and I was sure she was calling to let me know how difficult the task had been, especially on such short notice. I was wrong! She was thanking me for giving her the opportunity to meet such an incredible strong mother. The client ended up spending the whole ride expressing tremendous gratitude to her and to all the volunteers and explaining how all the shifts Chai Lifeline had been arranging at home and at the hospital had allowed this seemingly unmanageable crisis to be managed.
I am inspired by the tremendous inner strength I see in our families; I am inspired by the innate goodness and selflessness of our dedicated volunteers; I am inspired by the embracing sense of community we share with each other – by the incredible lengths to which people will go to help others, often complete strangers.