Pictured above: The Gifts of Light Volunteers pose for a quick group photo before their Jumble Sale in the CAMH Community Centre mall.
By Hilary Caton, Communications Coordinator
Each week, a group of women with a shared empathy for those struggling with mental illness come together to bring light to CAMH patients.
Dubbed the heart of the hospital, volunteers with the Gifts of Light program do what they can to help patients regain a sense of dignity and pride during their recovery.
This unique program is 100 per cent donor-funded and focuses on addressing patients’ immediate needs by connecting them to products, resources, events and programming.
At the centre of it all is Donna Slaight, a member of the CAMH Foundation Board and the true champion of the Gifts of Light Program. Donna has been involved from the beginning, when the initiative started as an annual gift giving program around the holiday season. But with the generous support of Donna and the Slaight Family Foundation, as well as hundreds of community donors, Gifts of Light is now a year-round initiative.
“Our budget has grown significantly thanks to the generosity of donors. Now my goal is to make Gifts of Light a sustainable program,” Donna said.
The number of Gifts of Light volunteers has also increased with Donna’s help. Erin Agnew, a seven-year CAMH volunteer, first heard of the program while at a conference where Donna was on a panel, discussing the program with Valerie Pringle, a former Foundation Board Director.
“It just spoke to me. The way she spoke about it, it just really humanized the patients here and drove home the fact they should be treated with dignity and respect,” Erin explained.
“I think we all know someone who’s struggled with mental health. I thought it’d be a really great thing to go and help with. I came during the holiday season and I loved it. I’ve been helping ever since. It’s amazing being on the units and helping out at patient parties and interacting with them first hand; to me, that’s the most rewarding part. I think you can get caught up with the things going on in your own life and I would say giving back is what life’s about.”
Another volunteer who shares that sentiment is Sharron Mollenhauer, a volunteer of five years. She’s one of the Gifts of Lights “24/7” volunteers, she joked. It’s because on top of her weekly volunteering she also runs three fundraisers for Gifts of Light that happen throughout the year. She also works around the clock to secure in-kind donations for the program.
Sharron is no stranger to mental illness, she’s seen it first-hand with certain members of her family and shares that she herself also battles with depression.
“Knowing that I’m helping people that are going through difficult situations because of a mental health issue is rewarding,” added Sharron. “If I can brighten anyone’s day that’s going through recovery of any sort, that’s enough for me.”
Alongside Gifts of Light staff, volunteers help the program reach more and more patients every year.
“This program would not exist without the passion and commitment of these incredible volunteers. Gifts of Light’s roots will always be credited to Donna and this team, but it is because of them that we get to do the meaningful work that we do,” explained Quinn Kirby, manager of Gifts of Light.
“We did not find these volunteers—they found us. We are incredibly grateful for that.”