Terrie joined the BC CRN as the Burnaby Community Response Network’s (CRN) Coordinator in March 2020. Back then, she had some extra time – her two daughters were growing and her work in seniors’ housing was smooth sailing – and she wanted to begin volunteering to give back. “We had great plans for the CRN,” she says. The pandemic, however, had other plans.
Upbeat and energetic, Terrie’s drive to help comes from a place of passion. “I’ve always been a caregiver, whether it’s my kids, animals, other women, or seniors, it has served me well and is very important to me,” she says.
Allow us the pleasure to introduce you to Terrie Orthner as our volunteer of the month. Thank you, Terrie, for sharing some of your story with us and for your commitment to making your community safer for seniors!
Terrie’s entire career has been based in customer service and people. After working extensively in hospitality, she entered the seniors’ housing industry where one of her very first jobs was serving seniors their meals in the dining hall of an independent living campus. She worked her way up to her current role as a retirement living specialist, matching seniors to independent housing options for a Vancouver company and building relationships in the community, a role she has been in for seven years now. “I wanted to leave the restaurant business,” she says. “I was a single mom to two young kids and the late working hours were hard.”
Working daily with seniors and in seniors’ housing gave Terrie a unique view of what happened inside the campuses during the pandemic. “Changes were happening daily, and it’s been hard for everyone – the residents, the staff, the company – but we all smiled and carried on the best we could,” she explains. “In independent living, seniors can come and go as they please. When the pandemic hit, people no longer could. Some wanted to move but couldn’t. Because of extended periods of self-isolation, some are also experiencing cognitive decline.”
Terrie continues: “For the last two years, there’s been a steady hum of low-level anxiety. The good news is that things are much calmer now. Vaccines have made things better and a little easier.”
Adult abuse, specifically financial and emotional abuse among seniors, was something she also saw, even before the pandemic. “It’s heartbreaking,” she says. “Especially when you don’t quite know what to do.”
She heard about the position for the Burnaby CRN Coordinator role at a Burnaby Seniors’ Resource Society meeting, which was the host agency for the CRN at the time. “I wasn’t aware of the CRN or its work prior to joining the Burnaby Seniors Resource Society, but once I saw what it was meant to do, I knew I could tie it into my existing role. And I wanted to learn more about abuse – where people could get information, how to help. I’m excited about getting important information in front of people.”
Although she works in Burnaby, Terrie lives in Port Coquitlam and has lived in the Lower Mainland for her most of her life. (She was born in Edmonton and moved to BC when she was very young.) “Port Coquitlam has the small-town feel that I like. It’s quiet, yet still central to everything my kids needed at the time. It also has great transit options that get me to and from work,” she says.
As Burnaby is a larger city than Port Coquitlam, it took some time for Terrie to learn about the community she worked in. “It took me a year, so when I accepted the CRN role, I was excited to reconnect with the people I first met.”
Shortly after starting the coordinator role in 2020 and with the help of Fraser Valley West Regional Mentor Ken Kuhn, Terrie was able to bring the CRN to Burnaby Mayor and Council, resulting in a proclamation declaring June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). “This declaration happens every year now,” says Terrie.
(This June 15, look for the Gaglardi Overpass to be lit in purple and a drive-through event to take place on the grounds of Mulberry Parc to recognize WEAAD 2022.)
During the pandemic, Burnaby was more restrictive than other Lower Mainland municipalities with its pandemic safety measures, with seniors’ programs finally opening again late last year. “This was when we re-introduced the CRN to the seniors,” Terrie states. “We planned a movie matinee, inviting seniors through the local newspaper. We had 35 guests show. As more programs open, there will be more opportunities to tell seniors about the CRN and my role.”
She also has plans in the works for a Healthy Aging Fair to take place later in June.
Working in seniors’ housing means Terrie is never far away from her email. “One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that it helped me reclaim some work-life balance,” she says. “I’m now putting my out-of-office email on when I’m away. I didn’t do that before, and I was available 24/7.”
She reads a lot. Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love is one of her favourites. “I’ve read this book many times over. It’s the ‘Coles Notes’ course about miracles,” she says.
Exercise and meditation help her stay grounded. “Staying active helps with my mental health and praying helps me stay centred,” continues Terrie.
Most important to Terrie is her time with her family and friends and helping others. “In life, I think we’re supposed to be in service to others. I think that’s what it’s all about and what makes life fulfilling.”
(Header Photo: T. Orthner)