Retirement brings transitions. In the case of Fonthill resident Mary Ellen “Mel” Groom, it was a segue into community service.
“I retired five years ago from my job as a wealth management advisor with Dominion Securities, and realized that I needed a new plan for my life, with meaningful activities to occupy my time. Consequently, I joined Wellspring Niagara, and also became a Rotarian,” she said.
Wellspring offers a range of programs and cancer-related supports designed to provide counselling and ease physical pain and emotional distress, and build strength and mobility. In Groom’s case, it was a peer support role that seemed like the best fit.
“I have a weekly shift on Wednesday mornings, which includes calling a list of members on the phone. I connect with them every three to four weeks. We just have a chat about where they're at in their journey, how they're feeling, and if there's anything we can provide for them. I might suggest programming that they could take advantage of at our wellness centre, or simply provide some emotional support. I also handle walk-ins, meeting with visitors who show up at our door, perhaps are not entirely sure of what they're looking for. I’ll take them on a tour of the facilities, then sit them down for a conversation.”
She also is available to do wig fittings, a service provided by Wellspring for members who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“I also like to water all the plants,” Groom said with a laugh.
Groom, who has lived in Fonthill for 30 years, has had her own family touched by cancer.
“I was a caregiver to my parents,” she said. “My mom had breast cancer 20 years ago, and my dad had cancer almost two decades ago.”
Her parents have both passed, her mother only recently, in February.
Some might think that working with people who are in the process of enduring varying degrees of physical and mental anguish
would be difficult, even depressing. That’s not the case with Groom.
“It's a rewarding job. I do a lot of listening, and offer support,” she said. “Wednesday mornings are the best part of my week, and I look forward to my shifts. Every week is different, and the busier I am, the happier.”
It was a difficult time at Wellspring during the pandemic, she said.
“It felt like we lost our soul during Covid...it was just an empty shell of a building. But all of our programming is operational again, including a 20-week exercise program with a trainer who works with them to set up a personalized fitness routine. Caregivers are also invited to participate.”
Groom noted that she went through a valuable training program for her role at Wellspring, which included role-playing exercises to make her comfortable having difficult conversations, plus educational information about all that the organization offers.
“Wellspring fills an important niche,” said Groom. “Hospitals look after the physical treatment, while we address the emotional and mental support that the medical system often just doesn’t have time for. We're here for the emotional help, whatever that may be. It might be simple conversation, or maybe to provide weekly quilting or art classes, or journaling, or group discussions about the experience of enduring cancer. It allows people to share their feelings safely, with non-family members. It's really hard sometimes to talk about your fears and your feelings with your loved ones, because they're going through the journey with you, and feeling it in a different way. Wellspring provides a safe place to converse about what they're going through as a caregiver or cancer patient.”
Groom the community booster couldn’t resist donning her Rotarian hat briefly to promote some upcoming events.
“We’ve partnered with White Meadows Farms and E.L. Crossley Secondary School to host Family Farmfest on June 17, the Fathers Day weekend,” she said. “We are creating an exciting interactive farming playground, where kids can see cows, rabbits, and other animals, plus enjoy the maple bush and hay rides. I also just booked a purse bingo for November, which is a very popular fundraising event at the Meridian Community Centre. And we've just started our youth exchange program again, with a student coming from Belgium in August.”