Volunteering Through the Years: One Family’s Legacy

For Susan Argintaru, her Bernard Betel volunteer journey began years before she joined the volunteer team.

At a young age, Susan came to Canada with her mother and brother and they settled in Montreal. Susan moved to Toronto with her husband and two small sons in 1975. Her brother moved to Toronto in 1978, but her mother remained in Montreal and continued to work until her retirement in 1981, when she moved to Toronto to be close to her children and grandchildren. Her children found a very comfortable 2-bedroom apartment for her on Fisherville, but she had no social contacts other than her family; all her friends remained in Montreal.

Susan knew there was a senior’s Centre just down the street from where her mother lived and urged her mother to visit the Bernard Betel Centre. Although hesitant at first, she took her daughter’s advice. Fritzi Cusmariu became a member in 1982 and was active until 1998, attending lectures, concerts, book reviews, discussion groups, etc. Once a member, she developed a circle of friends and increased her social activities. Fritzi then joined the volunteer program, selling bus tickets to members every Wednesday morning. When she could no longer come to the Centre due to inclement weather or ill health, she continued at home as a Dial a Friend volunteer and called members daily, which kept her involved and engaged.

Susan lost her mother in December of 2000. Five years later, Susan’s husband Paul, retired. Apart from going on power walks he had little to occupy his time while Susan was working full-time.

Knowing the positive experience that her mother had at Betel, Susan suggested that Paul join the Centre to participate in various programs and possibly also to volunteer. He agreed, but only if Susan would go with him. She took a day off work and they went to the Centre together. Of all the available volunteer opportunities, the Meals on Wheels program seemed like a great fit. Paul would meet people, be out in the fresh air and be out and about in the community. It was a win-win situation. He decided to postpone becoming a member until Susan retired and they would join together.

After 8 years of doing the meal delivery alone, Paul found that it was becoming too physically challenging to continue these deliveries on his own. In April 2013, Susan cut back to a 4-day work week and on Fridays she did the driving and Paul did the deliveries. They volunteered together as a team until the summer of 2015 when Paul had to stop volunteering due to health issues. 

At the end of March 2017, Susan and Paul joined the Betel Centre as members. Although not able to participate fully due to numerous medical appointments, they did participate in the Etrog program, and used the services of the Chiropody clinic. Sadly, Paul passed away in October 2017.

Susan admits it was difficult to return to the Centre alone. “It took a lot of willpower and I had to talk myself into it. It is hard to revisit a place where you went as a couple.” Maybe it was the memory of her mother and husband that gave Susan the strength to return and encouraged her to follow the same advice she had given them. 

In January 2018, Susan resumed her volunteer activities. She began by making calls to members to notify them of upcoming concerts and events; providing them with details on the computer programs and courses; inviting new members to Meet and Greet sessions; inviting members to Tea with Gail; and verifying email addresses with members in the Trips and Travel program. She assisted with the Sunday Lunch and Learn sessions by setting the tables with table covers, bottled water, plates and cutlery, as well as prepared food. She provided support and assistance to the ETROG program as well.

As an active member and volunteer, she was nominated and joined the Members’ Council. As a member of the Council, she volunteered at an Information table in the cafeteria to answer member’s questions, listen to their concerns and suggestions.

During the pandemic, the Members’ Council meetings are held virtually and Susan continues her outreach calls to the members. Wellness check-in calls to members are vitally important. Some members are lonely and isolated, and are thankful to be able to chat with a person; any person. They may have children, but they are busy with work and raising their own family, or they may live out of town. These calls can sometimes last 20 – 30 minutes. Susan understands that she is delivering a vital service.

In addition to providing members with important updates, Susan also does reminder calls for the Chiropody clinic. The number one question she is asked: “When will the Betel Centre reopen?” This question alone is a clear definition of “vital to the community”.

Over the years, Susan has increasingly seen how a simple act of kindness can benefit both those who provide the support and those who receive it. “This is what it is all about.” She saw the changes in her mother, in her husband and with herself. “When Paul delivered to a house, the person (sometimes a couple) would be waiting at the door. They made it a point to come out and accept the meal in person. They would have a brief chat and you could see how engaged they were with each other. What we do is so critical, not only to the clients and our members but for the community at large.”

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