BC Association of Community Response Networks

Volunteer of the Month: Lorraine Van Grol, Agassiz-Harrison CRN

It took a couple of tries to get our interview started with Lorraine Van Grol because she was juggling phone calls. Ever apologetic, she explained to us that some of her neighbours are older seniors, and she wanted to ensure they were taken care of before sitting down with us. She holds a special place in her heart for seniors and their well-being.

After 40 years in Community Living services, Lorraine is now dedicating part of her time and attention to the Agassiz-Harrison Community Response Network (CRN), where she is looking forward to continuing to support Seniors Connect Café, a program that aims to bring seniors out of isolation, connecting them with the community.

We are very pleased to introduce Lorraine to you as our volunteer of the month. Thank you, Lorraine, for your commitment to serving vulnerable adult communities and choosing to work with us!

The Vancouver Lower Mainland is her Stomping Ground

Lorraine is first generation born Canadian, and the second of six children of Dutch immigrant parents. She grew up in East Vancouver and went to Douglas College in New Westminster after high school.

“I picked up a brochure for Douglas College’s Childcare Worker Program and it looked very interesting to me,” she recalls. “The program was hands-on, which is how I like to work, and I’m a natural caregiver, so it made sense.”

Lorraine’s parents were also supportive of her choices. “As immigrants, they didn’t know what was out there when it came to possible careers their children could pursue,” she shares. “However, unlike other immigrant parents I knew, they allowed us to find our own way. There was no pressure to go to university.”

Lorraine would work to save up for school and traveling. After graduating, she would stay in East Vancouver working with families, seniors, and people with disabilities for several years. She would then move to Coquitlam to continue working with a non-profit for 33 years.

Three years ago, at 58, Lorraine would marry for the first time. She would move to Harrison Hot Springs to join him. The two still live there today. “I didn’t know if I would ever get married. One day, I decided to put on a dress and go out. There was no intention to ‘find someone’. It just happened. There’s a lesson there,” she laughs.

At that time, Lorraine also retired…and today she is looking for ways to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable people in the Harrison and Agassiz communities.

A Lifetime of Providing Supports Across the Age Spectrum

“I always wanted to work with people and I wanted to work with people with diverse needs,” she says.

Lorraine’s first-ever volunteer job was at Riverview Hospital’s North Lawn Building. “I was 18 years old at the time and I didn’t know anything,” she continues. “I wanted some experience helping people with diverse needs before entering college.”

At Riverview, she would work with seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and individuals with a range of conditions.

Through Canadian Crossroads, an NGO, a volunteer opportunity there would have Lorraine traveling to Suriname, a former Dutch colony and the smallest of the South American countries located on the continent. “I was able to work with people with disabilities and develop some cultural awareness sensibilities from that trip,” she says.

College practicums would place Lorraine at the now-closed Woodlands School, a former psychiatric hospital and children’s ward in New Westminster, and several other Lower Mainland community social services and schools.

Once she graduated, Lorraine’s career would take her to major healthcare centres in the Lower Mainland, including Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, which provides developmental assessments and rehabilitation to children, youth, and families; G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre, BC’s largest rehabilitation centre; George Pearson Centre, a long-term residential care home for individuals with complex medical and physical conditions; and the Simon Fraser Society for Community Living (now called Kinsight), which supports families of children, youth, and adults with developmental delays and disabilities.

“I’ve spent my whole life in Community Living,” says Lorraine. “I’ve been employed in residential and apartment programs, group homes, preschools…I have worked across the age spectrum with a lot of different people and have experienced a lot of different situations and scenarios…and had a lot of fun.”

Retirement Brought Her to the BC CRN

“When I retired three years ago, I knew I wanted to volunteer and do something different than my job,” Lorraine says. “Devirani (Naidoo, BC CRN Regional Mentor – Fraser Valley East) introduced me to the BC CRN.”

Lorraine at a CRN event. (Photo: D. Naidoo)

At around that time, Lorraine signed up to get involved with the Agassiz-Harrison CRN, the province was entering the first wave of the pandemic.

“COVID has made it very challenging to do community outreach,” she says. “Despite the restrictions to social interactions, we were able to continue to get the word out on abuse and neglect prevention.”

Lorraine’s favourite projects to date include:

  • Seniors Day 2020: “We invited community partners to learn more about our CRN and how we can collaborate.”
  • World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2020: “We did an event at an Agassiz coffee shop, treated customers to coffee, and gave out information about the CRN and adult abuse.”
  • Food Voucher Program: “We made information bags containing CRN information and a voucher to a local catering company. Recipients could pick up a pre-made or frozen meal to take home to enjoy while reading the materials we provided.”

Her next projects are to support the Seniors’ Connect Café, a program that has the CRN safely hosting monthly coffee socials for seniors and create Lifeboxes, a toolbox containing all essential and relevant documents that can be used by an individual and their loved ones in the case of an emergency or death.

“Our timelines are long and we are paying attention to how things go with the pandemic,” explains Lorraine. “While we aren’t able to do everything right now, we can continue observing and watching out for each other.”

Intergenerational Caring

Lorraine and her husband, being younger seniors, make it a point to regularly check in on their neighbours, especially if they are older, frail, or live on their own.

“We say ‘hello’ to everyone, or casually chat. If someone is feeling unwell, we’ll make some chicken soup and bring it over so they don’t need to worry about making their next meal,” she says. “We keep it casual so to not intrude, but we also observe carefully and make sure that everyone is aware of everyone else. Abuse can be very quiet.”

Lorraine credits her mother for her passion for caregiving and community. Her childhood memories are full of stories of caring for neighbours and people in need.

“Mom was my role model,” she says. “It didn’t matter where we lived. If there was a senior nearby, my mom would feed them. Mom would cook for our big family and then always bring food to the neighbours next door. In the Netherlands, my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother were the same way. Who I am comes from this. It’s important for people to give back to their community.”

Is there an exceptional volunteer working with your local CRN who deserves some shine? Email us at info@bccrns.ca or direct message us through Facebook or Twitter: let’s talk.

Written by: Debbie Chow, Links Communication Solutions. Follow Debbie on LinkedIn: @debbiechowabc

(Header Photo: Lorraine and her husband Garry. Photo: L. Van Grol)