In May, I met Joy Saunders on a Zoom call. With a warm smile on her face and looking intently through the screen, the 101-year-old from Lunenburg had an idea for a fundraising opportunity. She would walk 0.8 km, 102 times before her 102nd birthday in October of this year. All proceeds would go to VON in Nova Scotia, where I oversee fundraising. Speaking to Joy was, well, a joy. She is funny, engaged, and passionate about helping people.
Photo: Joy Saunders
I've given a lot of thought as to why Joy is so impressive and the reason why what she is doing is so important. In under a month, her fundraiser handily raised over $60,000 – with all funds going to VON Meals and Transportation programs that support seniors and persons with disabilities across the province. After an undeniably difficult two months with COVID-19 and the Nova Scotia shootings that took the lives of two of our VON colleagues, Heather O’Brien and Kristen Beaton, Joy has been our torch in a dark time.
The importance of what Joy is doing doesn’t stop there. She is the archetype of what our senior population can contribute to society. For 30 years, she volunteered in her community at the VON foot care clinic. For over 20 years, she ran the Lunenburg hospital gift shop and was a committed member of her Church Guild. When her province and community faced hard times, Joy’s first instinct was to give.
Seniors are some of our most committed community actors. I think of women like my grandmother, Peggy Wood, who was an active volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross, the Women’s Institute of Nova Scotia, the local fire department, knitting puppets for the IWK and – well into her 80s – continuing to make sandwiches and treats for community events. The majority of our volunteers at VON (roughly 75%) are seniors. They deliver meals-on-wheels and command our transportation programs, taking clients who cannot drive to critical medical appointments. In particular, one wonderful gentleman named Carlton Sandford, an 87-year-old volunteer, has been driving for VON for over 20 years. Without seniors, VON's Community Support programs simply wouldn’t run.
In the face of so much heartache from the COVID-19 pandemic, what Joy represents is more important than ever. On the ‘Walking for Joy’ Facebook page, comments read ‘I want to be just like you when I reach your age’, and ‘You are inspirational’. Joy is our role model. She is a senior super hero! She is what we want to be when we grow up.
One of the greatest lessons I've learned from Joy is this: when older adults are provided the opportunity for health and community support they can have incredible resilience, and look at what they can contribute! By continuing to invest in our home and community care system, we can all grow up to be more like Joy.
Submitted by Emily Mansour-Hemlow
Fund Development Manager, VON Nova Scotia