For one Better at Home volunteer, giving back strikes the right tone

For over 20 years, Linda Pringle has called a cozy Coquitlam neighbourhood, her home.

“I love living here,” she says of Westwood Plateau, on the border of Burke Mountain. “You feel like you can get away from the city, even though you’re just five minutes up the street. We’re a friendly, multicultural community. Every day when I walk my dog, I say hi to each person I meet.”

Linda and her dog Muskoka.

The importance of community engagement and participation was instilled in Linda at a young age.

“My mother always volunteered,” she says. “She canvassed for the Canadian Cancer Society and helped a family of Vietnamese asylum seekers immigrate to and settle in Canada. Her focus was always on giving back to her community.”

With her mother as an example, she’s always been open to new volunteer opportunities.

“I saw an ad for volunteer drivers through United Way’s Better at Home program. I thought to myself, ‘Driving for seniors is definitely something I could do’.” Linda met with Paola Wakeford-Mejia, the Tri-Cities Better at Home Program Coordinator and was immediately excited about the opportunity.

“I think I was one of the very first drivers brought into the program,” she says. “And I absolutely loved it.”

For Linda, working with a part of our population that tends to be hidden away from our day-to-day discourse was important. “Some of these seniors I was connecting with – you would never realize how vulnerable they are. Seeing me was sometimes the only conversation they’d have that day.”

Her clients faced a revolving roster of challenges, including anxiety, isolation, loneliness, and decreasing eyesight.

“Volunteering with Better at Home highlighted for me the importance of empowering older adults and the important role they play within our community,” says Linda. “They’ve given so much their entire lives and now they need help back. We cannot just shove them aside.”

Linda had one client, an older woman who, despite slowly losing her eyesight, valued and championed her autonomy.

“I would go with her into the pharmacy and the cashier would speak only to me,” she says. That’s tough.”

For Linda, it’s the having presence of mind to realize that even though we’re aging, it doesn’t take away our humanity.

“I never wanted anyone to feel like that with me – like there were diminished. So it was really important that I established a base level of comfort with my clients right away. I was empathetic to their situation – they didn’t know me, they didn’t know my car.”

So Linda began curating musical playlists from the eras she knew her clients would enjoy and playing them during their rides together.

“Music has a great way of putting people at ease. It’s relaxing!” says Linda. “Most of my seniors were in their 70s or 80s, so I was looking at music from the 50s and 60s – which is great music any way you look at it. It facilitated conversation. In the end, the music itself was the secondary thing. What it did was spur conversation forward. It made our back and forth natural.”

A life-long music lover and musician, Linda has been playing piano since she was a child.

As she got to know her clients, she saw music as an intimate, cross-generational bridge builder.

“Music has the ability to make you remember the exact moment and place you were when you first heard a particular song,” says Linda. “I used to drive one gentleman and his wife. One day he opened up and told me that he had been a Japanese war intern. I had never met anyone who had gone through that before, despite it happening right here in B.C. I asked him I could ask him questions and he said yes. The things he told me were unbelievable. I feel honoured that he trusted me.”

A life-long musician herself, Linda played viola in her school’s symphony orchestra and practiced piano through the Royal Conservatory of Music.

She believes that music, like volunteerism, instills something beautiful in all of us.

“There is something uniquely universal about music,” says Linda. “It’s like giving back – it brings us together. It makes you, and others, feel good.”

Want to help the seniors in your neighbourhood? United Way manages 67 Better at Home programs across the province, which rely heavily on volunteers to provide services to seniors, including light yard work, transportation, snow shovelling and regular social visits.

Check out Better at Home’s website to find an opportunity near you.