Bowen Island is blessed with many caring people.
They volunteer their time in many ways to look after the needs of others: the kind people who stock the food bank at the back of the Little Red Church; our volunteer firemen who put out house fires and respond to other emergencies; the Fish and Wildlife Club that cares for our streams and for salmon; and those who organize fundraisers for islanders and others who are ill or going through hard times. They know that caring for others contributes to an enhanced experience of community and strengthens our sense of belonging.
Sometimes the caring arises out of our own needs. When Diane Marshall suffered a serious health crisis, she wondered how many people like her could not find the health resources they needed on Bowen. She saw that there was medical help out there but it was hard to find because there was no one place where all these resources were listed. She gathered a few people around her to form a group to address this.
“We needed a name, so at the first meeting I brought two: The Caring Circle and Circle of Care. For some people it was a bit smarmy,” she says with a giggle. “But they’ve all got over it by now.”
With that, the Caring Circle came to be.
“The Caring Circle is needed because it’s important that people on the island feel they’re held in a large framework of support,” says Marshall. “People who come to live on an island are independent, and as they get older that can get them into trouble. They may need help and help is not available. We realized that anything we did to help one age group would help all groups.”
Together, Marshall and Colleen O’Neil created a one-page guide to health resources on the island. Six months later, with the help of “little bits of money” the one-page morphed into a pamphlet, The Bowen Island Health Resources Guide, and later a website: caringcircle.ca. Then O’Neil’s phone started ringing.
They needed a storefront. After an initial location in Village Square, The Bowen Island Health Resource Centre is now located in the heritage cottage behind the library.
“Everything you see here has been donated,” says O’Neil. “Chairs, tables, shelves, and two computers from Brian and Julia McCaig.”
The cottage holds a “free library” well stocked with books and pamphlets, all related to health.
Anyone is welcome to take a book and bring it back when they’re finished or keep it and bring another one or two when they stop by again.
I spotted a book with the title How To Raise a Two-Year-Old, and wished I could have got my hands on that one many years ago. There are books on aging and on various medical conditions. There are also pamphlets on teen health, housing, disability and how to apply for TAP forms. Also available is My Voice — An Advanced Care Planning Guide — to help with conversations between patients and family or health care providers. I bought the workbook on the spot. It’s only $5.
O’Neil works at the resource centre three days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“Colleen has been such a huge force,” says Marshall, “and brings so much talent to this work.”
With her background as a palliative care nurse and health care navigator, she has many skills to help those who come in the door. “I can’t solve every problem,” says O’Neil, “but I know who to call to find the information. People come in who are vulnerable; could be depression or a recent diagnosis, or a parent who’s dying.”
At the resource centre, they find a private place to talk about these things. O’Neil and Marshall are both proud of their programs, including Clinging to the Rock, a spring program on mental health for people of all ages; and The Driver Program, with a roster of volunteer drivers willing to provide transportation for those who would have difficulty getting to medical appointments.
For the future, Marshall would like to see more partnering. “We will be meeting with different groups to look at support needed for young families,” she says. “We need to know if a group is doing something so we don’t reinvent the wheel. We want to be a catalyst for programs that aren’t happening on Bowen, to improve health outcomes here. Our biggest challenge is letting people know what we do and that it’s for all ages.”
The Caring Circle, another reason why Bowen is a good place to live.