Many paths lead to volunteering

By Sonia Hazan

You start with a small commitment…and want more!

Hope & Cope Board member Alice Lehrer always admired this wonderful organization of ours and this, from the first years when Sheila Kussner and a handful of committed women established Hope & Cope. She became involved in fundraising and soon was eager to give more and more…

Her whole background has always been a giving experience – from her occupational therapy studies to her private practice, to her valued contribution at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, to her venture with OrthoSports – the caring, customer-centered orthopedics store – and now, of course at Hope & Cope.
She is Vice Chair of the Tell Cancer to Take a Hike fundraiser – both the Mount Kilimanjaro climb and the Kili chez nous local hikes – and has spear-headed the Mourning Walk, a weekly Thursday outing on Mount Royal for the bereaved, which has been an extraordinary experience for all those who have participated.

We met after the Mourning Walk, where I was honored to be privy to discussions among the participants – during these walks different levels of bereavement are shared, accepted, discussed without judgment and each individual is supported by the group.

Alice, who calls herself a “facilitator” not a leader, does an amazing job! The proof is especially in the compliments the walkers shared with me. Hope & Cope statistics only confirm the success of the program.

  • There is an average of 44 walks per year, out of a possible 52. This has been stable over the years.
  • There is an average of close to 5 participants per walk.
  • Most users of the program remain involved for an average of 1-2 years.
  • Women make up the majority of participants, however it is noteworthy that 31%  are men and this far exceeds the participation of men in the traditional bereavement groups.

For the Mourning Walk, Alice is seconded by another very caring person, Domenica Pulcini, who is also a survivor and brings a wonderfully positive and caring touch to the experience.As we chatted, Alice warmly shared some anecdotal outcomes of the Mourning Walk.

It is not uncommon to hear participants speak of the Mourning Walk as a ritual that they adopt in their week. Rituals provide structure to life turned upside down. Solid friendships have formed amongst participants – In one case, three widowed women became close friends, travel together and share family events together to this day, five years after they met. Another man, who, with the exception of his weekly attendance at the walk, isolated himself after the death of his wife, now convenes a group of his fellow participants to a bi-monthly lunch in a restaurant and organizes other social meet-ups with them. “My greatest satisfaction has been that a widow and widower participants are now together as a couple,” recalled Alice.

Walking is known for helping maintain good health at any time, but clearly,  Alice’s warmth and caring are just as important to healing when loss is present. Like many volunteers at Hope & Cope, Alice’s past experience with cancer has helped her understand the stress other patients and their loved ones go through and it shows in every aspect of her exchange with others.

And just when I thought I had a full picture, I asked Alice one more question: “What’s the one thing people may not know about you or would be surprised to learn about you?”: Alice answered,  “I have a Master’s in Jewish Studies, and I go to synagogue twice a week.” Definitely not what I expected, but it certainly fits her personality – curious, caring and compassionate!