Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

News stories from the Renfrew-Collingwood community in East Vancouver

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Canadian seniors bring joy to CASI volunteer


When I first decided to volunteer at the Community Action for Seniors Independence (CASI) program, I had no idea yet what it was about. I was just happy for the opportunity to be of service to the elderly, something that I have always enjoyed. So I started with much enthusiasm, hoping that my past experiences in this field would be helpful.

I was born and raised in Eritrea, East Africa. I had worked with the elderly, especially women, during the Ethiopian occupation of Eritrea. As a result, I gained much work experience, having been part of various community activities. It brought much joy into my life. Based on this I knew that I might like to be involved in the CASI program.

Previously I have written about my first CASI experience (“Newcomer finds family through seniors program,” December 2012 issue of the RCC News) with the most wonderful Cathy F. Shortly thereafter I met several seniors, among them the two lovely people, Ken and Ann, and a lovely woman Nel.

Anna and Ken are a couple that I visit once a week. They live together in a house in east Vancouver, having been married for 66 years.

It’s really a blessing finding a couple where both are and have been companions, partners and best friends for so many years. Over the years they raised eight children with much sacrifice.

Besides being a mom to her four daughters and four boys, Mrs. Anna also worked in a hospital, which added to an already hectic schedule. I recall one of our friendly chats during which Mrs. Anna shared with me that many nights she was only able to get to bed at 2 am, after having worked to support her family. I bet that was very difficult, especially at a time when many chores were done by hand, compared to nowadays when technology has made many tasks so much easier, for example in the kitchen.

Still to this day Anna is always a “busy bee.” I never see her idle. Every day, for her, is a new chance to prepare food or cookies for her large family, with so many birthdays and holidays to celebrate. I sometimes catch myself thinking how lucky her family must feel to have her in their lives.

Anna’s husband Ken is an avid reader, and every Friday, without fail, I find him reading a book in his favourite place at the kitchen table, with his breakfast close by. When I greet him with “good morning,” he briefly responds with a smile and tells me to help myself to coffee. And then he resumes his reading without much delay.

Ken is always ready to lend a hand, especially when the vacuum cleaner is not working. I remember a funny incident last summer, when we had to exchange the vacuum cleaner four times over the period of several weeks, because they were not working properly. One Friday morning I showed up as usual, wearing a new yellow jacket that I received the day before as a gift, and surprise! Ken had bought a yellow colour vacuum, same colour as my jacket. This one has lasted for a while now.

Ann and Ken are very proud and hard-working seniors. They complement each other with harmony. Knowing them has enriched my life immeasurably. I will never forget how they took a great interest in my refugee application process, marking their calendars with my hearing dates and blessing me with their prayers. I feel very lucky to have such big-hearted people around me.

Another wonderful person I met through CASI is Nel. She is originally from Holland. Nel and her husband immigrated to Canada in 1957. At that time, she was very young, barely in her twenties and already a mother of two beautiful girls. In 1968, her husband died and she became a young widow, raising her daughters by herself with courage and strength and working tough jobs. She told me that she is very proud of everything she has done.

On one of my visits, Nel told me how she fell in love a second time, with a wonderful man. Within a few months of meeting they decided to get married in Hawaii. Nel warmly recalled, smiling, that she then experienced the best 20 years of love in her life, until she became a widow for the second time in 2009.

She confided in me how, at first, she felt lonely, but then soon refused to be a hostage to her grief any longer, and decided to be active in her community at Trout Lake Centre. Today she is lovingly known as “Oma” in her neighbourhood, feeling happy and no longer alone in her neighbourhood.

In Nel I met a great lady who fights the emptiness of widowed life with great determination.

On my first visit to her home she welcomed me very warmly, which made me very much at ease. From the first moment I felt that we would become good friends.

Once, as I was dusting the furniture in the living room, I heard a beautiful voice that whistled a beautiful song. At first I thought that the sound was coming from a recorder, and slowly walked toward the kitchen to find out. I was astonished when I saw that it was Nel who was whistling! Her talent amazes me. I did not hesitate to ask her if she was a singer. She answered me with a passionate smile that she sings in choir of her church and she keeps practising between the church services.

Finally I would like to express my gratitude for the CASI program that allowed me to meet people with a big heart, and with whom I’ve created deep friendships. They understand the profound feeling of loss that we, as refugees, feel when we leave our beloved family and home, and they also have a sense of what it is like to be in a new environment, having to establish a new life from scratch.

Joining the CASI program gave me the opportunity to become familiar and interact with Canadian families, warming up my everyday life, as well as my heart and soul.

Akberet S. Beyene is a housekeeper with the CASI program for seniors that is based out of Collingwood Neighbourhood House.

Copyright (c) 2013 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

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Albert Battistoni Celebration of Life

A Celebration of Life for Albert Battistoni was filled with laughter, tears and many, many puns.

Albert, one of Collingwood Neighbourhood House’s (CNH) longest-serving volunteers and a fixture in CNH’s lobby, died earlier this year. He was 89.

“He chose to be in this place and with these people to share all of his contributions, humour and loving nature and this feels like a blessing,” former CNH executive director and current community strategist for Renfrew-Collingwood intercultural development Paula Carr said. She added she felt deep gratitude for having had Albert in her life and in the lives of those who work at, or are involved with, CNH.

Albert arrived at CNH in the early 1990s, to join the Seniors’ Wellness Group. He soon started volunteering around CNH, then located in a small storefront on Kingsway. Over the years, Albert volunteered in increasing amounts until he eventually spent part of every day, seven days at week at CNH.

Former CNH president Bill McMichael, who served as master of ceremonies for the celebration and even played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, noted Albert’s clever word play in the puns he continually told everybody. He even quoted a few: “You can tune a guitar but you can’t tuna fish.” And “Two peanuts walked into a bar and one was a salted.”

Michael McLenaghen, CNH director of community services, recalled how Albert would watch for children who were attempting to escape by sprinting down the hall or even running out the front door.

“Albert reminded me of a cross between a hawk and a border collie. He would see and notice everything and he had great herding instincts as he guided children back to their caregiver.”

Albert, whose family emigrated to Canada from Italy and then opened and ran Venice Bakery, grew up in Vancouver. Among the 125 people present at the celebration were a group of his peers who grew up on or around Prior Street.

Attendees admired Albert’s volunteer awards, on display at the celebration. They included CNH volunteer certificates for every year since 1993, the 2004 Association of Neighbourhood Houses Good Neighbour Award and the 2010 United Way W.J. VanDusen Community Service Award for remarkable commitment and dedication to volunteerism.

Copyright (c) 2013 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News