Volunteers Profiled: The Band of Johns

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Volunteers Embody the spirit of Sunnydale and House of Friendship

Many Canadians wake up early each Thursday to get ready for work. Such are my Thursdays this summer, but not everyone shares my schedule, not exactly anyway. I was fortunate to meet three wonderfully “atypical” individuals one Thursday at the Sunnydale Community Centre.

Their names are John Thiessen, John Paterson and John Wilken, or, as they prefer to be recognized, John 1, John 2 and John 3, respectively. Those numbers refer to their seniority as volunteers at the Sunnydale Community Centre. Each John is extremely different and together they form a sort of modern day Band of Robin Hood; the Band of Johns if you will. However, there is one major distinction between the two brotherhoods; unlike the Band of Robin Hood, the Band of Johns use donations and their time to aid those in need.  Their dedication to ensuring that the dietary needs of others are met, along with their compassionate and altruistic nature, shows through in all aspects of their volunteer work at Sunnydale.

Consider their level of dedication, as seen through their years of volunteering at the Sunnydale Community Centre. John 1 has generously volunteered for the past 15 years, John 3 following shortly after with about 12 years of service and John 2 with about 6 years of service.  Combined, their years of service add up to  roughly two years of full time work.

John 2 likes to joke, “my van was volunteering before I was!” It turns out that, during a Bible study attended by John 1 and John 2, John 1 shared that his truck had broken down. Knowing that John needed his truck to pick up food for Food Distribution, John 2 promptly offered the use of his van. Once John 2 retired from his accounting career, he too joined the delivery team. Most Thursdays he travels to the Waterloo Region Food Bank and picks up food for Sunnydale’s Food Distribution Program.

While John 2 is picking up food from the Food Bank, John 1 and John 3 are at the Sunnydale Community Centre preparing for food distribution. While they set up tables outside, they greet the community as they arrive at the centre. Once John 2 returns from the Food Bank, the Johns work together to unload the van and then head out for their weekly rendezvous to a nearby coffee shop.

It was during this coffee time that I was able to get to know the Johns and hear about their experiences at the Sunnydale Community Centre.

Food, smiles and a helping hand

There are many different aspects of the Sunnydale Community Centre and each John prefers a different part of the Sunnydale Community Centre the most. John 1 enjoys developing relationships and friendships with individuals through their shared interests in food. He believes that, “Food is a catalyst for developing relationships because food is neutral and everyone’s interested in it. People naturally talk about dietary restrictions, likes and dislikes. Food, no matter what one’s traditions or beliefs, ties all humans together”. John 2’s favourite component to his volunteer work is seeing the smiles on the faces of the families when they receive more food than anticipated. Lastly, John 3 enjoys having the ability to lend a hand in the light-hearted and warm environment that the Sunnydale Community Centre offers.

Sharing the bounty

The Band of Johns’ favourite task at the Sunnydale Community Centre is being a part of the food distribution. John 1 enjoys it because it provides opportunity for new and meaningful relationships with a wide variety of folks. John 2 loves being the delivery guy, picking up food from the Food Bank and the sense of accomplishment he feels when he is able to pick up more food than expected. John 3 adds that his favourite part of the food distribution is the camaraderie of the band of Johns.

Building friendships

Volunteering at the Sunnydale Community Centre has impacted the Johns in a variety of ways, most notably making them more culturally aware. The people who are a part of the Sunnydale Community Centre are from all parts of the world: South-East Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe. This diversity exposes them to other customs and traditions and allows them to build an appreciation for other cultures while also seeing similarities between other cultures and their own. They have heard and come to better understand the struggles of Canadian immigrants and the challenges being experienced by other nations, making them very thankful for their life in Canada. They have also built lasting friendships with the community members and community staff through their volunteering.

Cultural bridges

All three Johns agree that their fondest memory is of befriending a gentleman from Saudi Arabia who arrived in the area in 2009.  They recall a story which captures his outstanding character. The gentleman, who lived in uptown Waterloo, heard about the Sunnydale Community Centre and the spectacular services it provides.  On a cold, blustery, February day, he was determined to walk to the community centre to help out and learn the English language. Since that time, the Johns have been able to be a part of the many milestones of this man’s life, including seeing him gain his permanent residence status and improve his English.  After he began to take an ESL course, he phoned the Johns and asked them why they hadn’t been correcting his English.  The Johns explained that they did not feel they would have become as close if they had been interrupting him to correct his English.  Through this man, the Johns were also able to learn about the Arabic culture and tradition. One of the most surprising things they learned was about the level of hospitality in this culture.  They were invited to share meals in the man’s home and felt encouraged and welcome to stay for long visits. Through this experience the Johns have built a lasting friendship with this gentleman.

Going the distance, being a mentor and building a place in the community

Throughout their lives, volunteering has consistently been a part of the Johns’ lives. In the past, John 1 has taught children, voluntarily helping them with their school work. He also helped to raise funds to replace an unsafe playground in an Albert Street community served through the Sunnydale Community Centre. John 2 has coached boys’ baseball and volunteered with the Welcome Home Program which helps new refugees transition into life in Canada.  He learned of this program through the Sunnydale Community Centre. He also organized a breast cancer golf tournament. Last, but not least, John 3 has volunteered as a part of the Sunnydale Community Association and participated in the Terry Fox Run.

Equal to the Band of Johns’ diverse personalities, are their diverse hobbies. John 1 is an avid gardener and this year grew tomato plants which reached a staggering height of 8 feet. He also enjoys wood working, specifically creating beautiful cabinetry. Some of his work is even displayed at the Sunnydale Community Centre, most notably the transformation of the upstairs shower into a usable shelving unit. Other interests include photography and creating beach-glass jewelry. John 2’s most time consuming hobby, and the one that he treasures most, is spending time with his grandchildren. He even gives up time allocated for his other main hobby, golf, to increase the time spent with his grandchildren. He also enjoys sitting down to watch a game of baseball. John 3 has more relaxing, but no less intriguing, hobbies which include playing the guitar and watching every episode of How It’s Made on the Discovery Channel.

Time well spent…          

The Johns openly share that their dedication to the Sunnydale Community Centre is motivated by the regular changes that Sunnydale Community Centre makes to enhance their services. Over their years of volunteering they have seen tremendous improvements by getting closer to individuals within the Sunnydale community, improving the outreach of the community centre, and making it more accessible for others. They have enjoyed seeing the transformation from handing out the food during the food distribution to resident participation.

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