Auxiliary volunteers brighten patients’ lives

For more than 100 years, volunteers from the Nanaimo Auxiliary to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital have dedicated countless hours in the pursuit of patient care.

Nanaimo Auxiliary volunteers Esther Chang

Nanaimo Auxiliary volunteers Esther Chang

For more than 100 years, volunteers from the Nanaimo Auxiliary to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital have dedicated countless hours in the pursuit of patient care.

Simple acts of kindness like fetching a blanket, offering a glass of water or having a conversation with a patient are daily occurrences for more than 200 volunteers.

Tuesday (May 10) is Auxiliary Day in B.C. For the Nanaimo organization, it’s a day to recognize the dedicated work of volunteers, since the organization was established in 1900.

For 17-year-old Dover Bay Secondary Students Esther Chang and Kelsi Wright, working with the auxiliary started in 2008. Since then, they’ve logged more than 200 hours each.

They are part of the Nanaimo Auxiliary’s junior volunteer program. Junior members are from Nanaimo high schools and are mentored by a senior auxiliary member.

On a typical day, the two youth visit patients. They offer glasses of water, help them put on slippers or fetch items such as a wheelchair to help the patient navigate the hospital. They also help with meals, sometimes sitting with a patient who needs more encouragement to eat their food, or helping feed them.

Auxiliary volunteers also brighten people’s lives in the hospital with their company, taking the time to have conversations. Wright said for some of the long-term patients in residential care at Dufferin Place the conversations can really make a difference in their day.

Chang said at first it was a little intimidating going into the hospital and entering a patient’s room. However, after a while she became more confident and comfortable in the environment.

She volunteers because she loves helping people.

“The patients are very welcoming. When we talk to them, it makes their day a bit brighter,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to see them enjoy our company.”

Wright shares a similar outlook.

“You feel very proud when you are able to help someone even if it’s a little thing. It’s really nice,” she said. “Everyone needs to give back to their community in some way. It’s just a nice thing to do. It makes you feel good.”

Chang and Wright said the experience they have gained from the auxiliary is invaluable. Both want to enter the medical profession – Chang is considering becoming a dentist and Wright wants to be a doctor.

“It’s a chance for us to experience what it’s like to work in this field,” said Chang.

Chang and Wright are two of the more than 100 junior auxiliary members who volunteer in either the spring or fall at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

Last year, 200 auxiliary volunteers worked a total of 38,701 hours in Nanaimo. The organization also raised $297,500. It donated $230,000 to the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation, $4,000 for student bursaries awarded to participants in the junior program and $63,500 was used for patient care.

“In these difficult times, the amount of money raised by the auxiliary is very important for the hospital,” said Lynda Avis, first vice-president of the auxiliary.

Money raised for patient care is used to purchase special equipment, such as special chairs. The auxiliary also gives out food vouchers to visiting families in need.

Money is raised through the hospital gift shop, a thrift shop located at the Northridge Mall, and by volunteering at bingo events to access gaming grants.

For more information about the auxiliary, please go to



Auxiliary history

The Nanaimo Auxiliary was created in January 1900.

Members raised money for the hospital, located on land near Kennedy and Franklyn streets, through an annual ball, concerts, parties and teas. The organization met with hospital staff every month to receive a supply list for needed equipment.

In 1919, an influenza epidemic swept across the world and as people in the community and hospital staff became ill, auxiliary members acted as volunteer nurses.

In 1925, when a new hospital building was being constructed (it’s now Malaspina Gardens, a residential care facility), members placed their auxiliary constitution, membership list and the amount of money they raised for the construction among items placed in a box under the corner stone of the building.

Throughout the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, the auxiliary raised money for various items needed for the hospital. In 1967, it formed the Candy Stripers division, now the junior volunteer program, to attract younger members.

In the 1980s, the auxiliary helped develop the Lifeline emergency response system, which connects clients with help 24 hours a day. Lifeline now serves more than 1,300 people on central Vancouver Island.

In 2005, the auxiliary opened its thrift store at Northridge Village Mall to help raise more money.