Teenagers are planning a big party at the Chester Village nursing home.
On a recent Friday night, eight of the young party-planners met at the Danforth and Warden long-term care facility – some of the same youth responsible for a hit talent show there in July.
“We have a lot of entertainment all through the year, and that was absolutely the best,” says resident Joan Marshall, who won a prize that day for a trivia contest answer about Lucille Ball.
In July, youth volunteer Nicalyn Bucsit wowed Marshall and others by hitting all the high notes in Oh What a Feeling.
But Marshall, who uses a wheelchair, had already seen Bucsit give memorable performances – like stopping to ask if she could give her a push inside.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to be helped,” she said.
A former fundraising director for the Canadian Cancer Society, Marshall knows a thing or two about what makes a charity like Chester Village tick. She helped raise some $50 million for cancer research, in part by bringing the first Relay for Life – an all-night, team-based fundraiser walk – to Canada.
“It’s a great event,” she said. “But I had to fight to get them to do it.”
At Chester Village, Andrea Macina is the coordinator of 110 volunteers, about half of them regulars.
Many of the youth on her list sign up to earn the 40 community service hours they need to graduate high school. But Macina said that’s not why many stay on months, even years afterwards, often volunteering their Friday nights and weekends to run the Chester Village café and leisure programs.
“It’s very admirable,” Macina said, adding that it’s a lot of fun, too.
Long-time volunteer Britanni Pargass sang an Elvis tune, danced to Y.M.C.A. and wore a slime costume at the July show so four others could zap her with “proton packs” to the Ghostbusters theme song.
For her part, Pargass said community service hours were top of mind when she started at Chester Village four years ago.
“My mindset, to be honest, was 40 hours and I’m gone,” she said. “But it’s way past that now!”
Like Pargass, Raiyan Siddiqui started at Chester Village partly for the required hours. But he also had experience helping seniors in his own family.
“I always help my grandparents, and I enjoy doing that, so I thought why not do that and get volunteer hours?” Siddiqui said.
Volunteers Noemi Alava and Monika Datta said working the Chester Village café and dinner club has made them better listeners, given that some residents have trouble raising their voice or speaking clearly.
“You have to listen to people very carefully,” said Datta.
Marcus Poisson, the newest youth volunteer at Chester Village, said after helping his grandmother at Midland Gardens for the last two years, he’s thinking about a future career as a personal support worker.
Joan Marshall, who had her own helping-sector career, said that’s something she has thought a lot about.
“I think what these young people are doing will stand them in good stead no matter what career path they take – lawyer, doctor, financial advisor, PSW, anything at all,” she said.
“They have learned that every little old lady in a wheelchair is not just that, but is a real person. And every old man with a cane, who might mumble a little bit, is still quite capable of making decisions and having fun.”