By Louise Kinross
After her daughter Elizabeth was diagnosed with global developmental delay, Jean Hammond immersed herself at Holland Bloorview as a family leader.
The former advertising exec has co-chaired our family advisory, sat on hospital committees, helped hire staff and plan an annual recreation fair, educated medical students about what matters to families, and hosted coffee nights that give our inpatient parents a break and a sweet treat.
This month Jean’s efforts were recognized with a 2017 Volunteer Service Award from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“I find being here and volunteering and spending time with other parents going through similar stuff is therapy for me,” Jean says. “The best thing of all is the community and the people I’ve met—both staff and parents. They help me feel like I'm not going through this alone. I’ve learned so much that’s affected the way I’ve been a caregiver to Elizabeth.”
Jean says one of the first things she learned at our family advisory was about fun things her daughter could do.
“Chatting with other parents before and after our meetings gave me tons of great information about what other kids were doing,” Jean recalls. “I was navigating what activities there were for Elizabeth to do outside of school. None of what my son was doing seemed to work. Holland Bloorview became my hub for that. Elizabeth has done every camp the hospital has going, from Spiral Garden to Life Skills to a sleep-away camp.
“I remember coming for an information session on the Out and About camp and being handed a stack of waivers for activities like rock climbing, dragon-boat racing and going up in a glider. I thought holy cow, this is so cool. I learned that Holland Bloorview’s philosophy is to expose kids to a huge array of activities and, as a result, Elizabeth has become more confident and is enthusiastic about trying new things.”
Now Jean shares what she’s learned about adapted activities when she helps our Life Skills team plan an annual recreation fair for families. “It’s like a mini trade show and I get to connect with so many parents who are just at the beginning of learning what’s available. I love guiding them through, and telling them what I’ve found helpful.”
Jean says one of her favourite volunteer gigs is sitting on the quality committee of the hospital’s board. “It’s a big responsibility, but I love it because it’s proof that the hospital is walking the talk by including the family voice at a very high, decision-making level. I try to speak up and channel the concerns of other parents.”
Jean says her work as a family leader gave her a focus after she left her job in advertising to coordinate Elizabeth’s care. “Volunteering was a way to keep my brain from atrophying and a way for me to feel like I still had my hand in the game.”
Jean used her marketing experience when she helped the hospital’s foundation develop its successful Capes for Kids fundraiser. “I was in the room when we brainstormed what the fundraiser would be, and then helped on aspects of its roll-out.”
She says her work at the hospital led her to recognize that when she returns to paid work, it will be in a different field. “I won’t be going back to the world of advertising. I have to work in something that I genuinely care about.”
Jean encourages other parents to consider becoming a family leader. “As a family, you have something that only you can contribute—your voice and your lived experience. It’s so meaningful to see the difference you can make in policies and other changes in the hospital.”
Jean says the parents she’s met at Holland Bloorview have become her “peeps. We share information and we go out for a glass of wine and a crazy laugh, because nobody else would find some of this stuff funny.”
Learn more about our Family Leadership Program.