Cheryl Stinson is a stylish redhead who has a broad smile and a wonderfully warm presence that radiates through the screen. You feel welcome and at ease immediately.
Based in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, she moved from Metro Vancouver seven years ago with her husband to help her mother-in-law age in place. Together, they have taken up photography and cooking. “We love dabbling with spices and vegetarian recipes. Right now, simple middle eastern and rustic Italian dishes are favourites,” she says.
In addition to being the Campbell River Community Response Network’s (CRN’s) Coordinator, Cheryl is the coordinator of Volunteer Campbell River’s Seniors Info Hub, a one-stop virtual and brick-and-mortar shop that supports the coordination of community responses to senior wellness issues.
“I started the role as CRN Coordinator and Hub Coordinator at the same time, almost two years ago to the day in July 2020!” she says. “Mary Catherine Williams, the then executive director at Volunteer Campbell River, saw the vision for the CRN and the Hub as an integrated unit.”
Two years ago, COVID-19 was also declared a pandemic and the challenges of staying connected to the community rumbled to the surface as quickly as public health orders were announced. Despite this, Cheryl and her team found ways to continue building the Hub and the CRN, in fact, it was the perfect time for it. Seniors needed help and the Hub was key in coordinating responses to issues quickly, safely, and effectively.
We are so pleased to introduce you to Cheryl as our volunteer of the month! Thank you, Cheryl, for sharing some of your stories with us and for continuing to be an ally to seniors and the community!
“The Hub is an information service. It’s like the visitors’ centre of a town or a city,” explains Cheryl. “People come in looking for something specific. They know why they are there. Our job is to help them with what they need and then find ways to answer the questions they didn’t know they had. People don’t know what they don’t know.”
In the two years since Cheryl and the Volunteer Campbell River team started the work to build the Hub, they have also honed information, resources, and referrals. Housing, health, homecare services (“The need here went up a lot during COVID.”), transportation, and legal are the most popular topics. “We’ve really sharpened our skills in these areas,” she says. “We actively built relationships with other organizations so we can refer people to them, and they can refer people back to us.”
The referrals and responses were swift and specific, especially in situations of bullying or abuse. Cheryl recruits and trains skilled volunteers, supports them, ensures that the information provided is appropriate, and monitors responses to ensure the right kind of follow-up has been done.
“When it sounds like a person is being harmed, you really need the right people in place to listen, validate, and then empower the person to move forward with what they feel is best for them,” says Cheryl. “We’re lucky that our volunteers just happen to be trained and very skilled case managers who have worked in health. They have enabled us to provide personalized support while maintaining the clear boundaries of an information service.”
She also credits the responsiveness to preparation, foresight, and a solid, growing network of people.
“Our first year of development was dedicated to learning about our community’s organizations and making contact with as many people as we could to help make things as approachable and diverse as possible,” she says. “We also took the time to meet people where they congregate – farmers’ markets, pop-ups, the community and the seniors’ centre – to build relationships with all walks of life in the community.”
Better At Home – Campbell River, the Campbell River Hospice Society, Member of Parliament Rachel Blaney, Family Caregivers of BC, the Campbell River and District Division of Family Practice, Cyber Seniors, the local Salvation Army, immigrant and newcomer services, and several First Nation communities are a few of the partners that Cheryl and her team work with regularly.
Today, the calls to the Hub continue to increase, demonstrating the value of the program to the community and despite immediate funding issues. “Everyone is volunteering their time to keep the Hub going,” says Cheryl. “There is a strong need for this service.”
While the Seniors Hub is primarily for older adults, the CRN is about adults from all age groups who need support.
“Community is about all people, and we need to listen and keep our eyes open for opportunities to share the right information with people at the right time,” she states.” COVID taught us to be fluid. The Hub and the CRN will continue to evolve. It’s all about empowering people so they can advocate for themselves and the people that surround them.”
Cheryl’s professional background is in management. She held leadership roles for 15 years in the retail industry and in research before entering the non-profit sector.
“I grew up in a you’re-only-as-strong-as-your-weakest-link culture. Rather than seek out weaknesses, I chose to see opportunities,” she explains. “When you learn about people, who they are, and what their strengths are, you can empower them to do their best.”
This philosophy continues to ground her leadership style in the non-profit sector, which includes housing associations, transition societies, and volunteer boards.
In serving others, Cheryl has observed that many don’t want to ask for help. “If you give unsolicited advice, you will receive push back,” she states. “It’s about providing choices and encouraging them to make the decisions that are best for them. It’s not about assuming what we think people can and cannot do. It’s about offering fresh eyes to a situation and finding the opportunities to let them shine on their terms.”
“Community is all about interdependence, collaboration, and safety,” she continues. “We need each other to be able to take care of people. It’s not about one person knowing it all, but sharing our own gifts, and inviting others in to share theirs. You end up receiving so much you didn’t know you needed.”
In her off-work hours, Cheryl spends her time with her family, choosing hobbies that they can do together. In addition to cooking and photography, Cheryl, her husband, and her mother-in-law spend time doing a lot of landscaping and house design. “We’re working through our must-do’s and being creative with it!” she says. “It reminds me of my days in merchandising!”
Living with a senior family member also has deepened Cheryl’s appreciation for aging and life.
“I’ve learned that you never know what you want until you are at the age you’re at. As we get older, the dignity of choice and independence are priorities,” she shares. “I’m seeing that as people reach their 80s and 90s, values become more important than the job we do, how much money we have, or what we buy with it.”
From this observation, Cheryl is simplifying and paring back her own life.
“It doesn’t need to be expensive to eat well. You don’t need to have that Tesla to get around when something with four wheels will do. A simple life can be a happy life,” she continues. “When I pare down my conversations, I find people are more encouraged to approach me. This has helped me better understand their life paths and become empathetic and supportive on a completely different level.”
Written by: Debbie Chow, Links Communication Solutions. Follow Debbie on LinkedIn @debbiechowabc.
(Header Photo: Cheryl at a pop-up event last Summer 2021.)