Next week marks National Volunteer Week, and there are plenty of folks here in the local community who give their time generously to an array of organizations, causes and special events.
Red Deerians Maureen Chalack and Dean Cowan both volunteer for the Alzheimer Society Alberta and Northwest Territories local chapter, and are among a set of faithful people who will be recognized during a luncheon hosted by the Society later this month.
“Years ago, one of my mentors said, ‘You can take as much out of society as you want — but it’s your obligation to pay more than you receive,” said Cowan. “It’s been my philosophy, so I do volunteer quite a bit.”
National Volunteer Week (April 15th-21st) is a time to celebrate and thank Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers and this year’s theme is, ‘Celebrate the Value of Volunteering – building confidence, competence, connections and community’.
Cowan’s wife Doreen, who passed away five years ago, had Alzheimer’s and he suspects it actually started in her mid-50s.
She passed away at 66.
“We new something was up, but we just weren’t sure what it was,” he recalled.
Also, at the time, there wasn’t much in the way of understanding that younger people could develop Alzheimer’s – it was thought to be primarily a disease of the elderly.
Cowan said his involvement with the Alzheimer’s Society here in Red Deer through the spousal support groups was absolutely invaluable. “I honestly believe from my heart that it saved my life.”
Today, he facilitates such support groups in Central Alberta – one in Stettler and two in Red Deer.
“It’s very, very rewarding because you can actually see the results in the people who come,” he said, adding that often folks feel very alone in these circumstances.
“To see people grow is just incredible. I love seeing the progress that they have made.
“I also tell my people in the group that the days they don’t feel like coming are the day they should! It makes a real difference in people’s lives.
“I’ve had people who have been in the group who came in two or three years ago, and you wouldn’t believe they were the same people today. It’s like a family.”
Chalack agreed, adding that, “It’s about developing that sense of community.”
She started to notice symptoms in her mom about 35 years ago.
Doctors’ appointments followed, and a diagnosis was eventually confirmed. Over the years as the disease progressed, the impact also showed on Chalack’s father, too, who was a primary caregiver.
Ultimately, her mom was moved to a place that provided more care, where she lived for 10 years. She passed away 20 years ago.
All through the journey, Chalack saw how vital it is to have supporters in your life to turn to, to talk to and to walk with you through the valleys of Alzheimer’s Disease.
So these days, Chalack, like Cowan, wants to help others along the path she walked all those years ago,
She helps out Friday mornings with a walking program called Memory Trekkers at the Collicutt Centre.
“They usually come along with a caregiver, and we count the laps,” she said of the activity which has proven a terrific means of connecting with new friends. “After, we go downstairs and we have coffee and talk.
“It’s community. It’s like family.
“You need somebody – somebody that you can talk to. Thirty-five years ago, we didn’t really have anyone except the doctor.”
According to Volunteer Central, in Red Deer, about 51% of the population volunteers.
For Chalack and Cowan, volunteering is a gift in and of itself. It brings much fulfillment to their own lives. They say anyone who gives it a try will find it a most meaningful venture as well.
Cowan puts it best. “Find something you are passionate about – your experiences in life have made you what you are, so use those experiences to pay it forward.”