Fifty years ago, Marieon Mara was the first president of the Women's Christian Association, a group that would provide assistance to the patients and staff at Parkwood Hospital.
Today the organization is known as the Parkwood Hospital Auxiliary, but Mara is still there doing what she can to help.
“They were very different times back when we started. People didn’t need to be paid for everything they did,” Mara said. “We’ve seen a big change in attitudes, in the culture, but the help we are able to bring, I just enjoy it so much.”
Mara was one of 45 members of the auxiliary on hand Wednesday (Jan. 23) as the hospital held a 50th anniversary celebration for an organization that has raised more than $1 million since it began.
In its early days the auxiliary, established in 1963, raised funds by selling coffee in the basement of the old Parkwood Hospital building on Grand Avenue. “We had a lot of fun in that old place. I loved coming in everyday.”
Mara said that in those days the members were doing whatever they could to help around the hospital from assisting patients with exercise to taking them shopping, to mending clothes. They even made the sandwiches and squares for patient parties.
Last year alone, auxiliary members volunteered more than 8,000 hours of service and sold, among other things, 7,000 cups of coffee, 18,000 cans of pop and 3,000 newspapers.
“We are grateful for the tremendous contribution the auxiliary has made in the last half century,” said Elaine Gibson, St. Joseph’s vice-president. “The funds raised and the events sponsored by the auxiliary have brightened the lives and enhanced the care of patients and residents at Parkwood Hospital.”
Chris Livingstone, auxiliary vice-president and a member since 2009, said being involved is a “great way” for people to give back to the community. As a retired nurse whose father was a Parkwood resident, Livingstone said there is a special feeling that comes from helping at the hospital — not only for the 60 members of the auxiliary, but the hospital’s 400 volunteers as well.
“I think all of us need to give and this is a way to do that. And you get so much back too,” Livingstone said. “The residents, they make you feel so valued. They are so kind, I know I have picked up things they have dropped and they kiss my hand to say thank you. It is a great feeling.”
Mara said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that she stays involved with the auxiliary because she was made a lifetime member. But also because she can’t imagine not helping out a hospital she has been involved with for the past five decades.
For Livingstone, there is another reason to be involved outside of her personal connections. “This hospital is the gold standard and people want to be give back to somewhere they know they can make a difference.”
Michelle Campbell, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation, said the hospital is “enriched” by the efforts of the auxiliary. And not just through the money that comes through the foundation through the auxiliary’s ongoing efforts.
“What they do adds to the richness of the environment and is what makes the hospital a special place,” Campbell said. “The money that has been raised has made a difference and that is a lot of candy bars, newspapers and lottery tickets. But it is also the quality of life they (auxiliary members) contribute to the residents. It really makes a big difference.”
And Campbell said that difference isn’t reflected any better than through the effort of women such as Mara and fellow founding member Helen Osbourne, who also attended the celebration.
“To have two founding members involved here today, it shows you how people stay involved here,” Campbell said. “The residents get to know the volunteers, know them by name, can count on them. That is special.”
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