The work of Community Response Networks (CRNs) and the impact they have on community awareness of adult abuse, neglect, and self-neglect are made possible by our volunteers. Coordinators, the primary point of contact for a local CRN, enable prevention efforts to take place in ways that are meaningful to the community. Many of our coordinators do belong to a host agency, where CRN projects are part of a larger body of work the individual is responsible for. Other times, our coordinators are altruistic members of the community who volunteer to take on the role to make a difference.
Gabi Townsend, coordinator of the Westshore CRN based on southern Vancouver Island is the latter. (The Westshore CRN serves the communities of Colwood, Langford, View Royal, Metchosin, Highlands, and Sooke.) In our conversation, Gabi reflected on her 40-year career helping people and why she does what she does. We also learned she is a self-proclaimed introvert, a spirited adventure seeker, an innate helper of people, and someone who values family and relationships.
Gabi is also one of our newest community team members committed to raising awareness and educating the general public on abuse and neglect prevention. (She’s only been coordinator since November 2020.)
We are very pleased to introduce you to Gabi, our volunteer of the month. Welcome, Gabi, to the team!
A Natural Born Adventurer, A Career of Supporting Vulnerable Populations
Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Gabi came to live in the Vancouver Island city of Langford by way of Calgary, Alberta.
“I’m a Toronto girl,” she says. “I went to school to study psychology and foreign languages at the University of Toronto where I earned my undergraduate degree. I studied topics that I liked, and at the time, I enjoyed learning about human behaviour, and figuring out how to help others. I still do.”
After university Gabi traveled to Alberta. “Ontario was in the midst of a recession at the time,” she says. “The West was calling out to me!”.
There, she took a course in employment counseling. “That course was a turning point,” she says, “and I finally knew I had found my career.” With that, and falling in love with the mountains, she stayed. Upon completing the course, she worked with non-profit organizations to assist newcomers and immigrants find work in the trades and their home professions.
Gabi would live in Calgary for eight years before opportunity called again, this time in Victoria, BC. “My parents ended up retiring in Victoria,” she says. “There was a management opportunity in my field in Sidney. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had: I commuted to work by way of an oceanside road. The office was located a block from the beach! I was in heaven, and it was an amazing experience.”
Newly retired, Gabi now lives in Langford to be closer to her family. Her cat, Jasper, has been a constant companion on her travels across the country for 15 years. “Jasper is such a gentlemanly cat and my pride and joy. He’s not a cuddler, but he does like hanging with people,” she adds.
When asked further about her travels, Gabi explains: “I get this from my mother. She grew up in Germany and studied to become a nurse. Straight out of school, she and her friend hopped onto a ship to Canada…because they saw a job posting for nursing positions there. She believed in big adventures, living life, trying new things, and that everything will be fine. She was such an encourager.”
Supporting Vulnerable Seniors
Gabi’s last job before retiring was with the Alzheimer’s Society of BC, where she held several roles over the six years she was with the organization.
She had the opportunity to work with families affected by dementia, conducting workshops on topics such as brain health, caregiving, end-of-life, and grief and loss. Gabi and her team also managed over a dozen family support groups, did community outreach with medical clinics and seniors’ organizations, and referred families and caregivers to community programs and supports.
“There were lots of volunteers to work with, so mentoring, training, and supervision were part of the role,” she adds. “I also like technology and what it can do to help people. Even before COVID, we were looking at ways to offer our workshops online. Sometimes, it’s hard for caregivers and family members to participate in workshops outside the home, and we wanted to remove that barrier.”
Retirement, New Adventures Come Calling
Gabi did not have a firm retirement date set for herself. “When I hit 60 years old, I started thinking about retirement,” she explains. “I was looking at life and figuring out when that time could be to retire. When the time was right, I just knew it.”
Retired now for two years, Gabi spends her time giving back to the community. She volunteers with Island Health in several roles. Being a presenter on Advance Care Planning is her favourite.
“I’ve had so much contact with vulnerable seniors over the years through my career,” she says. “I love the work, and I have lots of energy for it.”
Gabi has also crossed paths several times with BC CRN and the local CRNs at different times through the latter part of her career. When she came across the Westshore CRN coordinator opportunity through Volunteer Victoria, she applied.
“I was intrigued by the challenge of the role, and it taps into many of my personal interests,” she states. “I was also becoming stir-crazy with the pandemic and needed something to keep me busy. Senior abuse prevention was a subject matter I felt I could contribute to.”
Gabi and Cari Taylor, Regional Mentor – Vancouver Island South, hit it off in their initial Zoom meeting. “We’re kindred spirits,” Gabi says. “She’s open and warm and I relate a lot to that. We also work together really well, we have the same sense of humour, and we both love cats. Our cats participate in many of our Zoom meetings!”
Since that first meeting, Gabi has been focused on building long-term relationships and partnerships. She is also in the process of planning for her first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) event on June 15.
“It feels really satisfying to be able to put my whole energy into the coordinator role,” says Gabi. “It also utilizes the skills I’ve built up over 40 years and resonates with everything that is important to me – making society a better place, keeping aging seniors safe, and helping seniors have the best time possible while they are still with us. I’m excited by the adventures to come.”
Why She Is Our Volunteer of the Month
Cari says: “One word: AMAZING! Gabi is everything (and more) than I had hoped for in a CRN coordinator for a fast-growing region like the Westshore. We are lucky to have such a hardworking talent on our team. My cat gave her and Jasper an enthusiastic ‘paws up’ in our first Zoom meeting together. It was a beautiful start to what I hope will be a very long relationship…way beyond nine lives!”