A Very Special Volunteer Shift

One woman’s gift to AHS in honour of her mom

Story by Alison Walker | Photo by Leah Hennel

“My mom would have looked cool in this!” Jess Thorgeirson poses in her red volunteer vest at the Foothills Medical Centre gift shop before her volunteer shift.

On July 2, Jess Thorgeirson put on the Calgary Zone’s distinctive red volunteer vest for a shift in the Foothills Medical Centre gift shop.

But this wasn’t a typical volunteer shift. Earlier this year, Thorgeirson reached out to Alberta Health Services (AHS) to ask if she could volunteer for one day in honour of her mom who passed away last summer.

“My work dedicates a lot of resources to work-life balance and giving back, and they give employees the opportunity to take paid time off to volunteer,” says Thorgeirson. “Every year, I try to choose something that’s close to me. Since this is the first year that my mom can’t volunteer at AHS, I thought this would be a good way to give back.”

Thorgeirson’s mom, Valerie Sasso, started volunteering at Foothills Medical Centre (FMC) and the Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH) four years ago. She volunteered 518 hours at FMC and 458 hours at the ACH.

“We loved having Valerie as a volunteer at Foothills,” says Chris Paddock, program assistant with Volunteer Resources. “She always provided friendly, compassionate customer service to everyone she interacted with.”

Thorgeirson says her mom was a nurse who spent much of her career in Alberta; she trained at FMC, worked in cardiology at the Rockyview General Hospital, spent many years as a community nurse with AHS, was a volunteer on a committee for the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta, and later taught nursing at Bow Valley College.

“Giving back to healthcare was one of her passions. She was so passionate about nursing and helping others,” says Thorgeirson. “My mom was a really caring person.”

As is her daughter.

Thorgeirson fundraised money for the FMC through the Calgary Health Trust. She accepted pledges from friends and family to support her volunteer shift, and her employer matched the dollars raised. In total, Thorgeirson raised $7,160 for the Critical Care Unit at the FMC.

“It’s really important for me to give back to the Foothills,” Thorgeirson says. “It’s where my mom was trained, it’s where she worked, and it’s where she received her care.”

Thorgeirson also chose a day to volunteer that had special significance for her mother.

“I actually chose today to work at the gift shop because it’s July 2, Valerie’s birthday,” she says. “She would have been 69.”

“Giving back is something my mom and I did together and it’s special that I get to do it at the gift shop—a place she volunteered each week,” Thorgeirson says. “It’s special getting to be here, meet the people she used to work with—her old friends and colleagues. It’s been great to hear stories, share experiences, and just learn more about my mom through the people she knew here.”