Doug Aldrich is a quiet, soft-spoken man. When he chats with someone, he looks them in the eye and listens. He’s interested in what the other person has to say, and you can tell he’s caring and genuine.
He is one of the very few male volunteers with Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors, and he’s the exact type of person that the organization needs more of.
“Doug is one of our major volunteers. Doug is exceptional,” says Bob Saucier, staff administrator with Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors.
The organization is non-profit support service that provides one-on-one listening, empathy and information to seniors in need. They offer aid to those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, have health and aging concerns, feel lonely or depressed, or in need of a helping hand.
They’ve found that men are more comfortable talking about their issues with other men, says Saucier, hence the need for more male volunteers.
“I get the knowledge that I’m making a difference in their life in some small way and they are important,” says Aldrich. “When I walk in and ask them how their day is, they talk and I sit and listen. You can learn if there is a problem without being intrusive.”
Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors matches volunteers with clients. After that, it’s up to the client and volunteer to decide where and when to meet, and what to do.
Sometimes the volunteer will go to the client’s house to visit. Sometimes they meet at a restaurant for lunch. Sometimes they simply sit and have coffee or tea and play cards.
“We rely on our volunteers. If we don’t have enough volunteers, we can’t service our clientele,” says Saucier.
They have 540 clients, 25 per cent of which are men. Of their 45 volunteers, only five are men.
Saucier is hoping to change that.
They are hosting a training orientation day on Monday with the hope of garnering more volunteers — especially men.
The training will take place twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, for six weeks. It starts Oct. 3 at Broadway Church. After training, volunteers are required to have a criminal record check before Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors can accept them. They recommend volunteers spend an hour a week with the clients, but sometimes more time is necessary.
“Each client’s needs are a bit different. Sometimes if a client is going through a difficult time, such as recently lost a loved one, then we spend more time with them,” says Aldrich.
He recalls one man with whom he’d visit two or three times a week.
“I spent more time with him because he was completely lost. He was with his loved one for 50 years,” adds Aldrich.
The relationship between the client and the volunteer is “very close and very friendly,” says Saucier. Some of them have been matched together for years.
“The gratitude from clients is incredible. They are so grateful to have someone come by and talk,” he says. “It almost makes me cry to hear someone so desperate who needs someone to talk to.”
The majority of Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors’ current volunteers are retired, which gives them more flexibility to visit their fellow retirees.
“You need to retire to something that gives you a purpose. This volunteer position gives you a purpose,” says Saucier.
Volunteering is not new to Aldrich — he’s also spent his time with Chilliwack Hospice. He knows that volunteering one’s time is an invaluable service.
“There’s a need for people willing to take the time to help someone else,” he says. “We are not there to change their life, I’m there to try to make his life a better one.”
Both Aldrich and Saucier are encouraging men to come out to the Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors’ free orientation day on Monday.
“Most men don’t know what to expect, but once they see (a volunteer and client) in action, they think ‘hey, I can do this,'” says Aldrich.
Those interested in taking the volunteer training course, men and women, can call 604-793-7204 to register. Training is free. Orientation day is Monday, Oct. 3 from 9:30 a.m. to noon at Broadway Church (46611 Maple Ave.). Training will run for six weeks, until Nov. 9, on Mondays and Wednesdays. It will start at 9:30 a.m. and go for about half a day each day.
For more info, go to chilliwackseniorpeercounsellors.org.