More than a mentor

April 19, 2017
Meryl and Nonie became friends through our Volunteer Mentorship Program
Meryl Acker and Nonie Wicken

Until two months ago, Nonie Wicken and Meryl Acker were two strangers, loosely connected by their shared passion for helping families at Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Toronto. Today, Nonie calls Meryl her “surrogate daughter.”

The two women have become close friends thanks to the new Volunteer Mentorship Program at RMHC Toronto, introduced in January. The program connects seasoned volunteers with new recruits to guide them through the orientation process.

“This is an exciting opportunity to let our more experienced volunteers take on a leadership role, showing them how much we appreciate what they do and the knowledge they’ve accrued,” says Francine Savelson, Senior Coordinator, Volunteer Resources. “For the mentees, the program eases them into their role and offers a level of training beyond what staff alone can provide.”

Having just completed her three introductory shifts with Nonie at our Family Room at SickKids, Meryl can attest to the benefits of having a mentor. Though familiar with RMHC Toronto from her time as an Arts and Crafts volunteer years ago, she was still quite nervous to start at the Family Room.

“The second I met Nonie, she put me at ease,” says Meryl.

Nonie relished the chance to share her experience, accumulated over a 30-year nursing career and weekly shifts in the Family Room since it opened in 2014.

“It was sheer joy,” she says. “I found Meryl to be so perceptive, keen, bright and willing to learn. I love teaching and I tried to teach by example.”

Meryl says she learned many valuable lessons from her mentor, including ones she will use in aspects of her life beyond volunteering.

“Nonie taught me the importance of the little things. I learned how small gestures can impact people both in chaotic times and when things are going well. One thing she does is fold everyone’s laundry. I did that on my own shift and families were so grateful. It’s a great way to pay it forward.”

She is inspired by Nonie’s passion for her work in the Family Room, something Nonie attributes to her time as a nurse.

“When I was nursing here, parents would walk the halls, sit in uncomfortable chairs and deal with their stress on their own because there was no place for them to go.

“When someone comes in to the Family Room, I can make them a cup of tea. I can sit down beside them and assess whether they want to talk or be alone, whether they need a pretty pillow or a real one. We’re here to make this room inviting and be a listener.”

As Meryl embarks on her own as a fully-trained volunteer, both women are grateful for their experience in the Mentorship Program. Their only regret? That their upcoming shifts don’t overlap.

“I think Nonie will be my friend forever,” says Meryl.

Nonie smiles. “The feeling is mutual.”