Hospice Muskoka volunteer Linda Leibel has received the June Callwood award, joining over 855 hospice volunteers who have been inducted into the Circle of Outstanding Volunteers since it was established in 1995.
The award is presented by Hospice Palliative Care Ontario (HPCO) to acknowledge and thank exceptional hospice volunteers across the province. It’s named in honour of the award’s first recipient, June Callwood, a journalist, author and humanitarian who was known for her commitment to hospice and other causes. Leibel was supposed to receive her award at HPCO’s general conference in April, but due to COVID restrictions, the event was cancelled. Hospice Muskoka Executive Director Sandra Winspear said they held off on formally announcing the award until they received Leibel’s certificate and pin, aiming to properly acknowledge her dedication and commitment to Hospice Muskoka.
“She’s just an all-round excellent, totally caring, wonderful volunteer, as most of our volunteers are, but we found her performance and her dedication to be outstanding,” Winspear said.
Whether it’s direct care, administrative work or fundraising, Leibel is willing to take on any job and is experienced on all levels of support, Winspear said. Volunteers are often the first face of Hospice Muskoka that people will experience, so to Winspear, it says a lot about the organization that people like Leibel represent it.
“Her clients have expressed a great deal of appreciation for her thoughtfulness and her comfort,” Winspear said. “She just emanates comfort to people and that’s so important in the work that we do.”
Leibel has been volunteering with Hospice Muskoka since 2012, but her interest in supporting hospice patients extends back many years. She got married in her 20s and her husband was later diagnosed with a chronic illness that took his life at only 42.
Toward the end of his life, Leibel was often in and out of the hospital for visits and noticed that many patients were not visited by family or friends for months on end. She asked the doctor if there was a program to support those patients, and he told her that would be palliative care and that the available services were sorely lacking.
“I decided in that moment that one day, when my life was different and I had the space and the time, I would somehow get involved in that,” Leibel said. “Lo and behold, as life travels along, I then had the opportunity.”
After taking a spiritual caregiving course, Leibel was approached by Hospice Muskoka’s volunteer coordinator Michele de Koning, who asked if she’d be interested in volunteering. Leibel agreed and spent her first year as a volunteer going to conferences, seminars and workshops to learn more about hospice.
Since then, she’s played many roles as a volunteer from offering direct care to assisting with marketing to painting children’s faces during the annual butterfly release event. Now, due to COVID, Leibel is working at Andy’s House, providing administrative services and cooking meals for the families that visit the facility.
When it comes to working with clients, Leibel said they’ve all touched her heart in some way, and she feels honoured to be able to provide support and hear their stories. She plans to continue volunteering with Hospice Muskoka as long as she’s able and while she’s honoured to receive the award, she wants to emphasize that it’s a team effort. Working with Hospice Muskoka has changed her life and she’s deeply moved by the support and camaraderie amongst her fellow volunteers.
“They are dealing with their own lives, the good, bad and the ugly,” she said. “The responsibilities of everyone’s individual life can weigh heavy and yet, through all of that, they are able to give, volunteer and get outside of their own issues and be of service.”
Winspear agrees that the volunteer team at Hospice Muskoka is truly special, and said that Leibel is a perfect example of the amazing people who have become connected to Hospice Muskoka.
“They are the heart of our organization,” Winspear said. “The volunteers will always be first and foremost, and the people they reach out to can certainly attest to the value they bring to their responsibilities, and they do it gladly and joyfully. I’m so thankful everyday that we have this wonderful group of people who are able to support what we do.”