• Jules-Pierre Malartre

L’Île-Perrot teenager using time off to help others


PHOTO COURTESY SYLVAIN CHOUINARD

Fifteen-year-old L’Île-Perrot resident Edith Chouinard works up to 13-hour days helping out at the CHSLD Manoir Harwood doing everything from meal delivery to cleaning dishes in the kitchen thereby taking some of the burden off front-line workers.

Hardship can have a way of bringing the worst out in some people but it can also allow others to shine. As we all weather the prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation, our mood cannot help but be brightened by the exemplary devotion and even sacrifice of our frontline workers who are fighting this disease every day.

But beside the nurses, doctors, orderlies, patient care attendants, pharmacists and emergency service personnel who are readily recognized for their outstanding services in these difficult times, we must also acknowledge the efforts of the volunteers who also risk their lives on a daily basis in the shadow of other health professionals.

Enter Edith Chouinard, a 15-year-old from L’Île-Perrot who had been living in social isolation like all high school students in the region when she decided to do something constructive with her time. She and her father started calling retirement homes in the area to volunteer their services.

“We were going around in circles, so I thought I might as well do something with my time,” Edith explained.

“We wanted to help,” her father, Sylvain Chouinard, said. “We went to two retirement homes to volunteer. It was early on during the crisis. The virus was starting to pop up, and they were still trying to figure out how to handle volunteers.”

Sylvain eventually saw Vaudreuil MNA Marie-Claude Nichols’ call for volunteers and both he and his daughter signed on. Sylvain and Edith ended up being deployed at Manoir Harwood in Vaudreuil-Dorion.

Edith and Sylvain’s volunteering came at the right time as more and more frontline personnel were falling ill to the disease. Volunteers in the region were therefore a welcome relief.

“When we started, there was almost no staff left,” Sylvain said. “The average seniority of the staff was about one week.” Most employees had fallen ill to COVID-19, according to Sylvain.

So, a true baptism by fire awaited Edith as she started her volunteering experience. Eventually, Manoir Harwood started paying volunteers for their work, but earning a salary takes nothing out of the exemplary nature of her commitment.

Edith’s responsibilities at Manoir Harwood include working in the kitchen, preparing and delivering treats to the residents, doing the dishes, and a number of other tasks that help keep the regular staff from being overwhelmed. Every day, she has to follow strict procedures while performing tasks that require a high level of concentration under stress to avoid the risk of contagion. Manoir Harwood, like many other care centers for the elderly, suffered from a significant number of COVID-19 cases.

“It’s very well managed,” Edith says about Manoir Harwood. Weeks into her experience she does not regret her decision. “People can make a difference by obeying the stay-at-home orders, but there are also other ways to make a difference. Volunteering was my way to make a difference,” Edith said and strongly encourages other people to volunteer some of their time to the cause during the pandemic. Her shifts at Manoir Harwood can vary and go up to 50 hours a week. “It depends on their needs. Sometimes you get shifts of seven-and-a-half hours. Other days you can be on duty for up to 13 hours.”

Edith said she’s not too worried about bringing the disease home with her. “I have more chances of catching it while going out for groceries,” she reasoned. “We are really well protected at work.”

Edith says she is there for the duration, or for as long as they need her. The staff that fell ill is slowly coming back to work, so Edith’s experience might come to a close at one point, but she doesn’t intend to leave it at that. “Short term, I will help watch over children. Long term, I want to go into a career in healthcare. This is where I want to go.”

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