Lauchlan McInroy, co-ordinator of In Good Company, chats with a client. Photo courtesy Fontbonne Ministries

Companionship ministry makes Christmas season a little less lonely

By 
  • December 18, 2018

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but for some it can be the loneliest. 

The holiday season can be an isolating experience for homebound individuals, which is why visiting ministries like Fontbonne Ministries’ In Good Company in Toronto take special care to visit their clients throughout the season. 

“We make a special effort to see all our clients at this time of the year because this is typically a time where those who are feeling isolated and lonely have those feelings accentuated,” said Lauchlan McInroy, In Good Company program co-ordinator. 

Twenty-five volunteers visit with 32 homebound and isolated individuals across the Greater Toronto Area every week but the holiday season can be a particularly vulnerable time. 

A majority of the clients are elderly people with medical issues or are experiencing cognitive decline. 

They often have limited or no immediate family nearby which means the volunteer is often the only meaningful social interaction they would have each week. 

During a volunteers’ meeting this month, McInroy instructed the volunteers to make an extra effort to visit their clients close to Christmas Day. 

“It’s a ministry of presence really,” said Leanne Kloppenborg, administrator of Fontbonne Ministries. “That’s really what the point of the program is, to keep them engaged and make them feel that they are a part of society.”

Visits vary according to each client. McInroy suggests one hour per week for each client but volunteers must remain flexible according to the client’s needs.

Sometimes, it’s just about accompanying a client to a nearby Tim Hortons together where they could sit and chat for an hour. Sometimes, a simple phone call is enough to brighten the day. 

“I have a client that I only have telephone contact with. She may call three or four times a week. She may call once a week,” he said. “She is quite depressed but just the connection over the telephone, she says, ‘I feel so much better.’ She often says that.”

Iona D’Cruz, 68, has been volunteering with In Good Company for almost two years. She joined the visiting ministry after retiring from full-time work as a legal document specialist in 2017. 

While sometimes the ministry can simply be about spending time with another person and getting to know each other, there are also clients with mental health issues, medical issues, cognitive decline issues and other challenges.

D’Cruz worked with a senior woman who could no longer speak due to a stroke. Because D’Cruz’s client was not vocal, she remembered struggling for months to make a connection. 

“Sometimes, I was thinking, I don’t know maybe I’m not cut out for this,” said D’Cruz. “When I came into it, I was looking for an experience where they wanted someone to listen and talk about their life, but in this case, that one hour was hard to get through at first.”

D’Cruz explained that just like with any friendship, finding that common connection can be tricky. 

She visited the woman at a nursing home where she would be left on her own with a stack of magazines in front of her. 

One day, D’Cruz brought in an old magazine with Elvis Presley on the cover. D’Cruz said the woman’s face lit up at the sight of him and that was a breakthrough moment for their visit. 

“I tell some of my friends about my work and they would say, ‘My gosh, how can you do that? Couldn’t you find something more exciting to do?’” she laughed. “But on the other hand, this person is feeling helped and happy with someone coming to see her and I’m feeling good about it.”

In Good Company started in 2008 in the Greater Toronto Area. It is part of an umbrella of social services managed by Fontbonne Ministries, a nonprofit organization founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph. 

For more information about the ministry, contact infogoodcompany@csj-to.ca.

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