The familiar refrain of Moon River echoes through the room as the audience listens intently. This is not an evening at the symphony but rather a Friday morning at the Intergenerational Wellness Centre at the CAMH Queen Street site.
As his bow glides across the strings of his violin, Hank Ko hopes to bring a little music and a little joy into the lives of clients in the geriatric mental health program. The 20-year-old student volunteers once a week at CAMH.
Music has always been something positive in his life and he wanted to share that with others. "I have played music for many years studying violin and keyboard. That’s why I thought it would be good to bring music to the patients," says Hank.
"I really love having a chance to interact with clients - to be able to talk and connect with patients even though sometimes they can act out or be disruptive. It’s important for me because one day I would like to work as a psychologist. I also feel like I can contribute to society by volunteering at CAMH," says the U of T psychology student.
Hank doesn’t usually take requests but he tries to accommodate all musical tastes. "I usually play classical music but a lot of clients like music from the 60s too. I play Moon River almost every week."
Like Hank, Stephen Meyer was looking for a way to give back. CAMH gave him the opportunity to connect with others and contribute to the community.
Most Tuesday evenings, you can find Stephen at CAMH’s College St. site playing pool or a mean game of crazy eights with "Mike", a client in the forensics program.
"We play pool, a game of cards, Sudoku - just something social," says the 23-year-old mechanical engineer. "I don’t know about the particulars of his background or diagnosis or any of his history but the hour we spend together is about supporting another person who has obviously had some challenges in life. It can be difficult to communicate with him and sometimes he doesn’t want to talk but I’m there if he would like to."
Theresa Conforti, Coordinator of Clinical In-Patient Programs at CAMH, places over 140 volunteers in programs, where they can spend time with clients doing anything social from sports to cooking.
"It’s about engaging people who normally don’t have the opportunity to be engaged in the community because they have either been stigmatized or marginalized," she explains.
Some might feel intimidated about working with a client in the forensics program but Stephen says he feels very safe giving one-on-one social support. "I haven’t been exposed to this community. I grew up in a small town near London, Ontario and I did have some reservations but I’ve been trying to better myself," he explains. "I’ve been trying to be a less judgmental person and I find I’m able to work on that when I’m doing this type of work. It’s definitely educational for me."
And educating himself was part of the reason he chose to volunteer at CAMH. "In the past year or two, I’ve had a few friends and families dealing with mental health and addiction issues and I‘ve realized that maybe I’ve been taking my own mental health for granted," he says.