Meet Our Leaders
While working as a family support worker, Brenda found herself taking on the additional role of being a personal caregiver for her Mom. She knew this new role would demand an even greater resilience on her part. She saw the Powerful Tools for Caregiver class offered in April of 2016 and signed up right away. She found the program did an excellent job of providing her with the skills and tools she needed and applied them to her unique situation. She attended the first-ever Ontario Powerful Tools for Caregivers Leader Training that November because she wanted to help others the way the program had helped her.
“There is so much I love about this program. Even though people come from many different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures, we all have that one thing in common: caregiving. We want to know how to keep ourselves well while taking on the many responsibilities of personal caregivers. We benefit from the course material with learning from and sharing with each other. I realized I was not alone in how I felt and the challenges I was dealing with.”
Brenda found two activities most helpful: using action plans each week and learning how to use the “I” message when communicating. She continues to see significant benefits in using these tools both in her personal and professional life.
Brenda has an infectious sense of humor and a passion for life. She loves spending time with friends, especially weekend getaways with the girls. Brenda is a singer who has performed with her choir in New York City on the Lincoln Centre Stage and at the UN. Most recently, she finds reading scripture a powerful means to understanding today’s life through wisdom from the past.
The first Self-Management class Ted attended was Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions workshop. He was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the leaders of the class was a family friend from years past. During the 6-week workshop he was taken by how passionate the leaders were, how impactful the information was, and he said to himself, “I need to be a part of this!”
Ted trained as a Chronic Pain Self-Management leader, and now, eight years later, Ted has lead 40+ workshops. He loves to see the support that happens within a group. There is such an outpouring of compassion for each other as they realize they are not alone in their journey.
Ted has very fond memories of a workshop he co-lead at the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation Health and Resource Centre. At each weekly meeting, Ted felt so welcomed into Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation community. At the end of the 6 weeks, the participants presented Ted with a small painting. The painting was an image representing Mother Earth, presenting the people with a gift of hope. The group thanked Ted for giving them hope through the classes.
“These classes are a big part of my life.” says Ted “I get to meet so many different people, from different faiths, different backgrounds and we all learn together. Sometimes it is as simple as helping someone shift their perspective. In one of my classes there was a participant struggling with walking and frustrated he could not get to his garden. One of his classmates noticed that the man’s wife had a walker, and asked him if would consider borrowing his wife’s walker when he wanted to get to the garden. The participant had not considered that, he always thought of it as his wife’s walker. The next class he was boasting about how much he was enjoying both his wife’s walker and his garden!”
Ted is a proud father of two children, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren! He has been married to his lovely wife June for 62 years. Ted also enjoys painting in acrylics and in the summer, sitting in June’s beautiful gardens and watching the birds.
In 2017, Michele was recovering from a major health crisis. She was not working and feeling very isolated. Her health care provider referred Michele to the Self-Management Program Chronic Conditions and Chronic Pain workshops.
“The workshops helped me tremendously. They connected me with people who had a similar situation or common challenges in chronic pain. I loved that we worked together on solutions – everyone was learning new skills and tools to cope better. When I completed the second workshop series, I realized how much I had learned both through the content of the courses and applying them to my own personal situation.”
Wanting to pay it forward, Michele completed her training to become a class leader in 2019.
“Leading the classes has given me a sense of purpose. When you are dealing with chronic pain, it can feel like there is no end, that life will be like that forever but this program helps people see tomorrow can be different. I love being able to make people smile, and let them know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
One of the highlights for Michele is seeing the positive affect they have on the mental wellbeing of participants. “The workshops provide a social outlet for people with chronic health conditions, and especially people dealing with chronic pain. Chronic pain can have a devastating effect on people feeling able to participate socially in life. Sometimes the workshops are their only means of social interaction. It is so healthy to be with people with similar challenges. The workshops are a learning space where they can talk about their pain and how it is affecting their life without feeling judged.”
On her spare time, Michele loves to go hiking in Durham Region with her 9-year-old rescue dog Dante, a boxer mix from Mexico. She loves cooking; her favorite recipe is baked pasta primavera with chicken. Her favorite fiction writer is James Patterson and she is a huge fan of health and wellness podcasts, along with talk radio. Number one hobby: photography – “My favourite subject matter is landscapes, plants/flowers, architecture and my dog of course!”
When Wendy’s in-laws moved in with her and her husband, the deteriorating state of her mother-in-law’s health became evident. The caregiving needs that dementia patients require demanded new skills and knowledge from Wendy that she did not have. “No one teaches you how to be a caregiver,” said Wendy. “When you become one, the role doesn’t come with a manual or on-the-job training.”
Her in-law’s geriatric doctor recommended the family take the Self-Management Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions workshop, so they could learn how to support someone with chronic conditions and take care of their own health together. The course, offered in Mandarin, was very beneficial to the whole family through this time of crisis. Wendy wanted to be sure this workshop continued to be available to her community, so she signed up to train as a leader.
Wendy is now trained in the Chronic Conditions, Chronic Pain, Diabetes, and Powerful Tools for Caregiver Programs, and she facilitates the sessions in both English and Mandarin.
“I don’t see myself as a leader, but rather someone who guides the conversation and learning among a group of people who have common challenges and common goals. It is so inspirational to see people take the knowledge, put it into practice, and reach their goals,” Wendy expresses.
“Seeing people be successful by making small daily changes, over time, is so empowering for them and for everyone in the class to see. When people learn how to read food labels, they understand how food labels can guide better-eating choices. Almost everyone learns something new, something that positively influences their food shopping from that day forward”.
Wendy's watercolour painting of her father-in-law.
Wendy finds it very gratifying to be a volunteer, allowing her the opportunity to give back in so many ways. It is often difficult to fit into a day all the things that fulfill Wendy’s life. She is an active golf and pickleball player and enjoys taking a variety of courses – anything that stimulates knowledge! She has taken courses in cooking, acupuncture lessons, and watercolour painting.
During a visit to the Courtice Community Complex, Sam saw a flyer for the Self-Management Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Pain workshop. The flyer asked, “Are you living with Chronic Pain?” and Sam certainly was. At the time, he was relying on heavy medication to manage his pain and was desperate to find other options due to the negative side effects from the medication. Within two weeks, he was taking his first workshop and it was life changing.
“I was able to reduce and eventually stop relying on opioids all together. Once again, I was also able to participate in my favorite activities,” Sam exclaims.
With a background in adult training and education, and being newly retired, Sam enrolled to become a workshop leader.
“I was excited to become a volunteer leader and to use my skills and personal experiences to help others with similar challenges. I knew that this opportunity would have so much meaning.”
Sam received his certification as a Chronic Pain Leader and co-lead his first workshop in October 2019.
When asked what Sam liked most about leading the classes he said, “I am generally a sceptic or cautious when trying new things – I tend to tread carefully until I get comfortable. Now, I recognize the same apprehension in some of the workshop participants in the early sessions. However, with just a little knowledge and patience you see the same person, who was hesitant, change and become an active participant. It is so empowering to see these participants benefiting from weekly action plans and contributing to class discussions. The positive approach of this program encourages participants to seek knowledge and ask questions so they can become confident self-managers of their own health.
Sam acknowledges that life is never perfect, but says, “In attending the Chronic Pain Self-Management workshops, we have a much better idea of how to stay well, and what we can do if things get tough”.
Sam loves to go for walks, and still plays tennis and golf – adjusting the level of play to match his new health and lifestyle. He enjoys spending time with his equally fabulous wife Betty and their two lovely daughters who are the light of his life.
Cathy was living in Kitimat, a very small town in northern B.C., when she was first diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. She did not know anyone else on a diabetic insulin pump. There was so much information to take in and she felt very alone in the experience, so her doctor recommended she take a Chronic Conditions Self-Management workshop. After Cathy completed the workshop, the Self-Management Program was looking for new leaders and asked Cathy if she would be interested in applying to be a volunteer peer leader. She was sent to the training, which she loved, and found her fellow trainees had similar challenges with their health. She immediately felt the value of having support from people who understand what she was going through.
Cathy started leading classes while living in B.C. and when she moved back to Ontario in 2006, she continued leading classes here. Cathy loves witnessing the change in people over the course of the six weeks.
“When people come into the first class, they are often lost and feeling overwhelmed, especially if they are dealing with having diabetes. They have a lot of information from other health care providers, but just do not know where to start to try to make the changes they need to make. By week six they are finding out they can do so many things to help improve their health and feel better. In the Powerful Tools for Caregivers classes you see in the first class how exhausted many caregivers are – often from trying to do everything themselves. Over the six weeks, they learn how important it is for them to look after their own health and how the skills and tools they are taught in this workshop help them to do just that!”
Cathy continues to support the program online during the pandemic through her amazing skills and compassion for others, as both a class facilitator and Master Trainer for new leaders.
When not leading workshops, Cathy loves to garden. This year she is growing a garden of vegetables rather than flowers! She also loves babysitting her two grandchildren, aged 11 and 13, who enjoy playing card game challenges with her.
Register for Cathy's upcoming online Living a Healthy Life with Diabetes workshop here /workshop?id=6600
Vicki heard about the Powerful Tools for Caregiver program while helping her Mom with an appointment at the hospital. At the time, Vicki’s sister was the primary caregiver for their parents, and Vicki wanted to know more about how she could support her sister and her parents. In the workshop, Vicki found the content very useful and the textbook a great resource tool. She also found the excellent facilitation skills of the two class leaders and their compassion for the participants made the workshop such a pleasure to attend. At the end of the six-week workshop, the class leaders mentioned the program was looking for more leaders. Vicki had just retired and thought it was a great opportunity to do something meaningful.
“I really believe in the program. I think because as class leaders, we all have personal experience as a caregiver, the empathy and compassion we have in leading these workshops makes the material real. I continue to use the skills and tools that I learned in the class, they have changed the way I approach many everyday situations,” said Vicki.
Vicki trained as a leader for the Powerful Tools for Caregiver program and led her first in class workshop in September 2019. Since then she has jumped onboard to lead the workshop online, seamlessly transferring her amazing facilitation skills to a new platform.
Her favorite part of being a leader is when someone in the class has a real “ah-hah” moment. “Something being discussed rings so true for them and they experience a deeper understanding of what they are going through personally. During action planning each week it is so great to see caregivers share a tool or strategy they learned about in class; they tried it, and it worked for them! I also love those moments when a caregiver reconnects with something that brings them joy; understanding how important doing things for ourselves is, that it is not selfish to look after our own health.”
When she is not leading workshops, Vicki loves to golf and spend time with her four grandchildren, two girls and two boys.
In 2013, Ruth was grieving the loss of her husband and friends suggested
volunteer work might help. She saw the Self-Management Program was looking for
facilitators and thought this is a volunteer opportunity with real value. She
could apply her people and presentation skills from her career in Human
Resources, and continue to meet new people; something she loves to do. Ruth
also felt it was important to learn more about health care and the important
role of Self-Management education.
She trained as a leader and led her first workshop in January 2014. When asked what she liked best about leading classes, Ruth responded that she enjoys empowering people to take charge of their health and feels grateful for all she has personally learned from the many different participants in the classes. “Every class has learning moments for everyone”, Ruth says, “It’s really exciting to be a part of something so powerful. I love that the classes are free for the participants and that they are provided with a free textbook that gives them so much valuable information!”
Ruth also loves seeing the comradery and support participants offer each other in this group learning setting. In one particular class, there was a young man who was having a lot of difficulties adapting to the major changes in his life due to being in severe chronic pain because of a car accident. He was
a young dad and very angry at the circumstances of his life. In one class, he had a moment where he strongly vented his anger and frustrations; the class reacted with great support, demonstrating compassion and empathy. You could see the impact the group had on him and the dynamic was so powerful that he calmed down, apologized to the group for his outburst and thanked them. He
continued to come each week, and you could see him starting to change his perspective of things, there was now this sense of hope about him. It is as if the workshop opened his eyes.
Ruth loves visits with her three children and eight grandchildren, entertaining, gatherings with great conversation, and charades and card games. She also enjoys auctions, gardening, swimming and just trying new things.