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Newmarket's St. Andrew's Presbyterian church volunteers make difference in lives of seniors

'But we start singing. He opens his eyes. He can’t sing, but he mouths all the words. For an hour, he smiles,' says volunteer

If you’ve spent time at Southlake Residential Care Village or the Chartwell Barton Retirement Residence, chances are you’ve seen one of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church’s committed volunteers. 

David and Lynn Hoath, talented musicians, lead sing-a-longs of classic hymns and tried-and-true oldies at Southlake Village and the Chartwell Barton Residence several times a month. 

What began as a desire to play music for David’s mother, a resident of Southlake, has now expanded into a busy volunteer schedule that sees them performing and leading a worship service for seniors at Southlake several times a month. What drives them, they say, is the unadulterated happiness their music brings to residents.

“We sing at Southlake, and there’s a fellow there I’ll never forget. He’s been there for as long as we’ve been singing there. He knows all the lyrics, all the hymns. But he had a stroke. Every time we go in, he’s sitting there, head down, in his wheelchair,” said David, speaking of a moment that touched him deeply.

“But we start singing. He opens his eyes. He can’t sing, but he mouths all the words. For an hour, he smiles.”

Bill and Sheila Stephens are also frequent volunteers with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. They lead a bible study twice a month alongside fellow volunteer Adela MacDonald, and organize a popular bingo night every Monday.

They’re joined in their volunteer work at the Chartwell Barton Residence by Janet Thacker, who hosts a weekly read-a-long of the Barton’s most requested books. Fiction and comedy have proven to be big hits. 

“People don’t realize how much they miss by not making these relationships,” said Sheila, referring to her connection with senior residents.

“It makes you grow, makes you start considering other people and not just yourself. It opens a whole new world. You think differently, you do things differently. Because suddenly you’re thinking of everybody else but yourself,” she said.

It’s this selflessness and commitment to bring happiness to senior residents of both Southlake Village and the Chartwell Barton Retirement Residence that has seen St. Andrew’s’ programs thrive.

Churchgoers of all kinds are in frequent rotation, happy to volunteer for the church’s missions in any way they can.

“When you see how much these things mean to them, and how thankful they are, it makes you want to come and volunteer,” said Sheila. “You both enjoy it.”

While St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church has been active in the community since its founding in the early 1830s, it was only three years ago that it adopted a missional church model that would see attention shift from church to the community. 

To best support Newmarket and beyond, Reverend Laura Duggan and the St. Andrew’s volunteers decided to focus their efforts on specific services they believed would best benefit those in need. 

Community lunches for the vulnerable, outreach programs for seniors, and a residence for the mentally ill and addicted, were soon established. Their prayer shawls program, which sees church volunteers hand-knit and crochet shawls for the sick and bereaved, has also found great success. 

The goal behind these programs, according to Duggan, was to share God’s love and address the loneliness they perceived in society. 

As many would attest, they’ve certainly found success.

“When you come to the church your entire life and are suddenly not able to, then it is our duty to come to you,” Duggan said. “It doesn’t stop at our doors. We have a duty to be there for you your entire life.”