Wilma Swain, a Pitt Meadows resident, has been inducted to the Order of Red Cross – the highest honour the organization can bestow.
She was both surprised and honoured to receive the award.
Swain is a volunteer with the Red Cross Health Equipment Loan Program, which provides equipment to people recovering from surgery or illness or spending their final days with loved ones in the comfort of their own home.
Over the past year, the Maple Ridge location has loaned out 1,658 articles to 940 clients.
Swain got involved with the Red Cross after receiving help herself from the organization 20 years ago.
”In 1998, my husband was dying. We lived in Chilliwack and the nurse came in and said we need a wheelchair and a commode for him.”
Swain was put in touch with the Red Cross in Chilliwack. She filled out the paperwork and received the needed equipment.
“He used it only a couple of weeks before he died,” she said.
In 2000, Swain moved to Pitt Meadows and saw a newspaper ad for a request for volunteers at the Maple Ridge Red Cross.
“I thought, ‘Well, they were really helpful for me when I needed those things so I got to have something to do.’ I went down and signed up. I filled out a simple application and she asked if I could come in tomorrow,” Swain recalled.
And she went to work doing exactly what she is doing to this day – waiting on clients, organizing equipment and helping them get equipment to and from their vehicles.
Waiting on clients is the most important aspect of the work for Swain.
“Because they are in trouble when they come,” she said.
“They need help. They need equipment. Many of them, this is the first time they’ve taken sick or their mother is sick, their child, they need equipment and they don’t know what to do or where to come.”
Swain explains to them what the equipment is and how it is to be used. Clients receive an instruction sheet for all of the equipment. She does the paperwork, takes the phone calls. She even sweeps the floors, cleans toilets and shovels snow.
“Whatever needs doing, I do.”
Since starting at the Maple Ridge Red Cross office, Swain has seen a six-fold increase in the number of people coming through the doors to access items like walkers, wheelchairs, crutches and bathroom aids.
Swain wouldn’t consider doing any other volunteer work. She has been doing the job now for 18 years and helped more than 10,000 people.
“It makes me happy when somebody comes in and they don’t know how to use the equipment, to see they go out the door with the stuff that they need and then they come back again and they are walking, they are happy and healthy, mostly,” Swain said.
Sometimes, though, the stories are heartbreaking, such as when a husband with two toddlers returns equipment because his 30-year-old wife just passed away.
Diane Prentice, HELP coordinator who gathered letters of support and submitted the paperwork for Swain’s nomination, said the award for Swain is special and rare. She is among a group of 25 or fewer member appointments to the Order each year across the country.
She is the 295th person ever to receive the honour.
Prentice is not surprised Swain has received the award, adding that she has helped so many people, either directly or indirectly, and has been a leader in the organization and a mentor for others.
Swain was only eligible to receive the Order of Red Cross after receiving other lower level merit awards, including the Distinguished Service Award.
“She was an obvious choice,” said Prentice.
When the Red Cross moved the HELP program from downtown Maple Ridge to its current location, in the industrial area just east of the Golden Ears Bridge, it was short volunteers, so Swain took on scheduling, twisting arms and sweet talking people to make sure they had help.
“If it was a question that the place was not going to open, she’d come down, she’d be here and make sure,” said Prentice.
When another volunteer showed signs of dementia, Swain stepped in again, taking over the treasurer’s role.
Swain also diligently trains the volunteers, making sure everyone is on the same page.
“The whole thing is about the safety of the client,” Swain said.
A special luncheon was held on Sept. 27 to present Swain with two medals and one pin, a framed citation and certificate.
Swain will display the certificate in a prominent place in the office because she couldn’t have received the award without the help of the hard-working volunteers she is surrounded by.
“There is no ‘I’ in team, this is the whole group that makes this happen,” she said.
The personal citation she is planning to hang at home.
There is special protocol for wearing the two medals, but the pin she is allowed to wear daily.
And that she has fastened, proudly, to the left-hand collar of her shirt.
• The Maple Ridge Red Cross Health Equipment Loan Program is in need of volunteers anyone interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to redcross.ca/volunteer.