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A nationwide network of support: Spotlight on volunteer facilitators

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Parkinson Canada oversees and guides an extensive network of support groups across Canada. Whether you are looking for a nearby community group that meets in person or a regional or national group that meets virtually, we can recommend one. We partner with groups serving people at various points along their journey with Parkinson’s with a common purpose – to create micro-communities of people who share their experiences and give and receive comfort, encouragement, knowledge, information, and inspiration.

Our support groups extend beyond people living with Parkinson’s to their care partners and family members, including adult children. These groups provide care partners with the opportunity to come together and receive emotional support and learn what has worked for others in an informal setting.

The support groups we partner with are facilitated by volunteers, who are integral to this work. The week of April 24-30 is National Volunteer Week, and this year’s theme is Empathy in Action. We can affirm the strong link between empathy and our volunteer facilitators, and we recognize their vital contributions this month by spotlighting their efforts, time, and care.

Every support group is different

Parkinson Canada support groups are focused on providing a safe and supportive environment for members. Most groups emphasize camaraderie and social support, while others also offer speakers or other resources.

Susan Poulin Baril, who facilitates two support groups in eastern Ontario, shares her experience.

“My care partner group meetings are about having open, honest and empathetic conversations or sharing fears while the rest of us lift spirits and give virtual hugs. My other support group for people living with Parkinson’s tends to be more about medication, exercise, community supports and other daily challenges.”

Regardless of its focus, what every support group shares is a desire to help others living with Parkinson’s.

Charline LeBlanc was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s almost five years ago. She is now 49 and has been affectionately referred to as “the kid” by the members of the group for people living with Parkinson’s that she facilitates in Bouctouche, New Brunswick. Members come from several communities in the area and are immediately made to feel comfortable.

“We do a roundtable, and everyone can share their situation once they feel at ease. We try to keep our group quite social, and it’s become very tight-knit over time. They speak very freely about things they may not feel as comfortable speaking to their family about.”

One of the common themes of support groups is the community that is created outside of the meetings themselves.

Charline notes that members of her group “often share birthday greetings or provide group news to one another.”

Paula Reed’s father died of Parkinson’s around eight years ago. As his care partner, she wishes she’d had access to a group like the Maritimes Support Group she now facilitates.

“As a care partner, we have so much information thrown at us that it’s sometimes hard to make sense of it. This group is wonderful because there is a beneficial sharing of resources in addition to the emotional outlet that it provides.”

“Another great thing about volunteering with Parkinson Canada,” says Paula, “is that there are many different classes, speakers and educational tools available to me.”

Partners in support

Parkinson Canada trains and supports its facilitators with professional development sessions to build facilitation skills, such as active listening.

“I never feel alone,” says Paula. “Any time I have a question I can reach out, and the Parkinson Canada team is there for me. And, when you first start, if you need moral support, someone will co-facilitate with you until you feel comfortable.”

Parkinson Canada’s quarterly forums give facilitators the opportunity to connect with one other, sharing their experiences and advice on facilitating with one another.

Jennifer Masters has discovered that her grief counselling training has prepared her to facilitate conversations around stress and sadness in the Atypical Parkinsonisms care partner support group she facilitates online. She has been impressed with how informed the members are about the facets of living with Parkinson’s.

“I feel like I am just there to hold the space so they can connect with and support each other with compassion. My particular group is already very informed and educated about Parkinson’s, and what they need is a chance to share their feelings – the group becomes a form of self-care.”

Part of Parkinson Canada’s strategy moving forward will be to encourage the emotional support systems that function self sustainably within support group communities while also providing educational opportunities and resources through webinars and other resources outside of a meeting setting.

Parkinson Canada continues to expand our nationwide community of support by partnering with empathetic volunteer facilitators like Susan, Jennifer, Charline, and Paula. To our facilitators across the country, we’d like to say that we couldn’t do what we do without you, and we extend our heartfelt thanks to every one of you.

If you would like to explore joining a Support Group – or volunteer to facilitate a Support Group – learn more here.

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