Youth volunteers fill hospital halls with the sounds of the season
Story by Heather Kipling
The joys of the holiday season can be difficult to find for those who have to spend time receiving care and treatment at a hospital.
To help both patients and their families make this time of year merry and bright, a group of young volunteers are bringing holiday cheer to those at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre (RDRHC).
Led by youth volunteer Andrew Panteluk, a dozen local youth volunteers donned reindeer antlers and Santa hats to take part in the Christmas Cheer Evening. They toured units throughout the hospital, serenading patients with familiar favourites, and delivering special gifts along the way.
“During the last three years I’ve been volunteering at the hospital, one thing that has really touched me is how many people are confined to the hospital over the Christmas season,” says Panteluk, a Grade 12 student at Ecole Secondaire Notre Dame High School in Red Deer who initiated the event. “And sadly, for various reasons, many patients do not have visitors, and are alone during this special time of year.
“I decided that I could make a difference to those people.”
After saving his money, Panteluk purchased holiday-themed plush toys, one for every patient on the specialized stroke recovery unit where he was volunteering, and planned an evening to deliver them while playing Christmas carols on his violin.
Studies show that listening to music has numerous health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, stabilizing heart rate, relieving depression and reducing anxiety. It also helps to calm the mind and body of patients in pre-operative settings and reduces pain as well as promoting comfort and relaxation.
“It was incredible,” he says of the response he received from patients and families. “Patients would sing along to their favourites, and many patients hugged and thanked me. They said I had made their day very special. Family members also thanked me and one even told me that my visit had turned a bad day into one of joy.
“I will never forget that.”
Last year, Panteluk was joined by younger brother, Luke, and his volunteer partner, deciding to make the evening an annual event. This year he reached out to his fellow youth volunteers on other units, expanding the event to help spread comfort and joy to as many patients as possible.
“As the primary Volunteer Resources Coordinator for the RDRHC Youth Volunteer program over the past 18 years, I have had the pleasure of working with thousands of outstanding youth, however, one of my proudest moments was watching the 13 youth volunteers come together for the annual Christmas cheer evening for patients, their families, and staff on Units 21, 22, 31, and 33,” says Darci Shave, one of the volunteer resources coordinators at the hospital.
“My favourite moment was when Andrew gifted a stuffed elf to a patient, explaining that it was a gift from Santa and the patient’s eyes just lit up and she giggled like a young girl. It was very special to see.”
For Panteluk, the act of giving he has initiated is one he plans to continue.
“The more patients we can reach and bring joy to, the better!”