One of my personal heroines is journalist and author June Callwood. Social activist, humanitarian, grieving mother, television personality, champion of troubled teens, June Callwood puts her journalist’s pen to its highest power and the world benefits.
Now 81, June is certainly an icon in our country. In fact, just type Callwood, June into google.ca and enjoy 9,900 results. Now, that’s someone who’s made an impact.
When June’s son was killed, she took her grief to a higher level and founded a hospice for AIDS sufferers in his name. Casey House opened its doors in Toronto at the same time hospital emergency wards were closing them from fear of the unknown when AIDS first presented itself in Canada.
June’s whole life has centred around identifying need, holes in our systems, opportunities in our social nets. Unlike many journalists who identify an issue, write about it, complain, throw darts and then head out on their next story, June Callwood has always paused. She has then pulled together remarkable communities prepared to mobilize for solutions… contributing towards change.
She founded Toronto’s first centre for pregnant teenagers. She founded and continues to support the hospice movement which gives dignity and practical support to the dying. She embraced AIDS sufferers with tender care and practical alternatives. And on and on and on. From cub reporter on a Brantford newspaper, this woman has been prolific, powerful, determined, and quietly kind. She has sat at the bedside of a dying friend. She has immortalized Canada’s female heroes. She has heralded the plight, and the pinnacles of women.
For the past few years, she’s been fighting her own personal war with cancer.
In September, at Alliston’s Nottawasaga Inn, June Callwood will be reaching out to shake the hands of 20-30 individuals from across the province who are being recognized by the Ontario Palliative Care Association. Joan Kanis of Barrie will be one of them. Joan will be inducted into the June Callwood Hospice Circle as she is recognized for her work with critically ill people. She will be the 6th Barrie volunteer to receive this recognition.
Just 10 years younger than June Callwood, Joan Kanis got the ‘calling’ while taking a course in gerontology at Georgian College and listening to a presentation about the work of a hospice… giving service to those who are critically ill. By giving compassionate care, they provide relief for the full time family members; hospice volunteers bring the outside in.
Joan took the hospice volunteer course 12 years ago and has worked with over 150 grateful patients in the past dozen years. She says she used to keep records of her companions, noting little details that she appreciated. Right now she’s giving her time to two different people, one on Saturday mornings and one on Tuesday afternoons. For these women patients, Joan’s contribution gives comfort.
Joan has taken her palliative care training one step further. For a decade she was employed at Grove Park Home, Barrie’s oldest long term care facility. She was a health care aide (now called Personal Support Worker) and while she’s been retired for five years, she still volunteers at Grove Park, serving as the coordinator of compassionate care for volunteers.
“I started the program because I could see that one-to-one care made a difference to people. Nurses can’t do it. There aren’t enough of them and there isn¹t enough time.”
So, like June, Joan sees a need and developed a program that encompasses palliative care for the latter stages of life, plus compassionate care. There are three aspects to the program, involving RVH, Hospice Simcoe and Grove Park and the 30 hours of training is a co-operative effort. For those wanting to help with feeding and friendly visits, a simple 3-hour orientation gets you started.
Joan takes applications for the Compassionate Care program, does reference checks, and coordinates volunteers to the schedule of their choice.
While she divides her time between hospice clients and reisdents of Grove Park Home, Joan also shares her attention with the elderly and children. “Most of my clients have been elderly, though I’ve given service to children as well. I find working with dying children much more difficult; they’re such brave little things,” she says.
For Joan, this is a big volunteer commitment. Since returning to the Barrie area 20 years ago, it’s been her way to give back to the community where she went to school, met her sweetheart, married and started life as a young wife. Joan grew up on a farm on the 9th line of Innisfil; her father worked on the railroad but also had a working farm. Her husband hailed from Phelpston and Joan reminisces that they met at the Pinecrest Dance Hall, back when dancing was THE social activity. Joan and her husband Clarence just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
While family life and her job have been significant activities, the past decade of caring for people just because she could has been Joan’s real life force.
She was surprised when she learned that Jan Janssen, executive director of Hospice Simcoe, had nominated her for this provincial award. “I feel honoured. But I do it because I like it.”
The summer will pass. But in mid-September, one icon will meet another.
In this way, the torch is passed. Every year June Callwood takes the time to sit through dinner and grasp the hands of people who care. People just like her.
And Joan? Thank you!