Brooke Lothian has always had a way with kids. The third of four children, she had a close bond with her baby brother and was always mentoring younger students in her dance class. “They would gravitate towards me. I was a role model, I guess,” she says modestly. “I think it was my dance teacher’s husband who suggested, ‘Brooke should teach! She’s really good at it.’ I didn’t even think about it and just said ‘Yeah!’ So at 15, I started teaching dance.”
Today, Brooke is in her second year of Ryerson’s Early Childhood Studies program, which is how she found another way put her skills with kids to use—as a VHA Child and Family Support volunteer. VHA was one of the internship options her professor presented, and when Brooke researched VHA and the program, “it was everything that I wanted out of my internship and volunteering,” she says. “And I got even more than I wanted. It was awesome.”
The Child and Family Support program matches volunteers with families that are experiencing multiple stresses and isolation. The volunteers visit the families and act as a resource to make positive changes in their lives. Volunteers interact with their young children (less than five years old) and help the families discover and connect with social supports in their community.
Since Brooke began volunteering with the program in May, she has worked with eight families. Often her role is simply being there for the family, helping the parents navigate situations, connecting them to resources and being a sounding board or solving problems. “With Brooke, I was able to catch up on reading and research, because I want to go back to school and work part-time,” says Charlene, a VHA Child and Family Support client. “One of my goals was to start the process of driving. I was able to study for my G1 and I went for my test and passed, thanks to Brooke. I’ll always remember Brooke for that!” she adds.
Seeing the impact her support brings families has been particularly rewarding for Brooke. “One of my clients was feeling very overwhelmed. She has four young kids and had just broke her foot. She’s also an immigrant and doesn’t know much English.” The client had a mix-up with her taxes but struggled to address it because of the language barrier. Brooke was able to be a go-between with the CRA and help resolve the misunderstanding. “It made me feel really good, knowing that I helped with a little thing that I could do—being a communicator. My client was so thankful that the problem was resolved, and she didn’t have to worry about it anymore. She could focus on something else, like her children or self-care.”
Brooke also goes on outings with the families. “A lot of my families just stay at home because they are comfortable there or it feels like too much to take all of their children out alone. Just being able to go to the library or the park and get some fresh air or change up their environment is possible now. And seeing their children interact with other children or with nature is really rewarding for them. They really appreciate it.”
Charlene echoes this sentiment. “I really appreciate Brooke’s time, effort and care. I could l see from the very beginning that her heart is in what she’s doing. She will go far.”
Being a Child and Family Support volunteer has Brooke more excited than ever for her future as a teacher and the variety of encounters she will have. “Every family is unique – seeing how they work really opens my eyes. I just want to keep going. I’ve made so many good relationships with these families and knowing that I made that difference is amazing.”
Amazing is a word that comes up often when Brooke talks about volunteering with VHA. “This is probably one of the best experiences of my life. I would definitely recommend volunteering at VHA for everyone. I’ve learned so much. It is so rewarding. I’m so glad I did it.”