Personal Loss Inspires Service

Radha with a group of volunteers at a school breakfast program

by Radha Sharma, student leader

Being a volunteer with Student Open Circles has become an integral part of my identity. After school went online, I was delighted to find out I could still volunteer remotely. I was eager to provide support, and while I was unfamiliar with online volunteering, adversity was very familiar to me. In early January of 2020, my father suffered a brain hemorrhage that has left him disabled physically and mentally. He will live in a long-term care home indefinitely. During the pandemic, myself and others in the same position were unable to visit their loved ones. The isolation and viral outbreaks that many senior homes faced were terrible, and I knew I wanted to help those, like my father, who were unable to communicate with their relatives. With the help of Student Open Circles, I was assigned to be a volunteer facilitator for the “Letters to Seniors” program. I was responsible for leading a group of 15 students to create letters, artwork, puzzles, and other pieces that would be mailed to the senior home. As a facilitator, there were many challenges in leading a group online, but I quickly adapted to Zoom meeting etiquette. Our group benefited from increased accessibility, which allowed members to volunteer from anywhere around the world. We had students from all parts of Canada and even one who lives in Colombia. It was a great blend of global and local volunteering efforts for the betterment of the Hamilton community.

Radha (third from right in the image above) with a pre-pandemic group of volunteers serving at the nutrition and reading program at Dr. Davey School.

We created dozens of written and visual artworks for the seniors. I reconnected to painting and sketching each week. There was an overwhelming sense of comfort and relief when we volunteered together. In the first few weeks, many of the volunteers, including myself, were finding it difficult to feel a personal connection to those we were helping. However, this was soon replaced with something so special; we received feedback and many kind words of encouragement from the seniors. This seemingly remote communication was positively influencing the lives of so many. We constantly discussed the impact we were having on our community during the reflection portion of our volunteer sessions. I can confidently say that our words of affirmation and positive outlook were imprinted in the work that we sent. The continuous reward that comes from helping others was heavily reinforced during my time with Student Open Circles. I am extremely grateful to volunteer remotely and aid our local community during these unprecedented times. Next term, I will be facilitating and volunteering with the Seniors Connect program, where we create videos revolving around topics related to wellness and healthy living. I am extremely excited to see what this opportunity brings!