More than words

December 08, 2018
Guitar-playing volunteer brings peaceful melodies to the Family Room.
Tyler Dunk
Tyler Dunk had to audition before becoming a volunteer at Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Toronto in April.

That’s because the 26-year-old has a special role: he’s a music relaxation volunteer in our Family Room at SickKids.

Every Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Tyler pulls out his acoustic guitar, takes a seat in the centre of the Family Room and strums some calming and peaceful melodies for the families using the space.

“He caters his playing to what is going on in the room,” says Olivia Brammer, Family Room Coordinator. “If there is a lot of emotion in the room, his playing is quieter. If it’s very active in the room, he plays louder and faster.”

“I was pretty lucky to get the job,” says Tyler.

He’s been playing an instrument since grade school, but now that he’s working full time – as an industrial designer – he wanted to find a way to combine his love of music with volunteering. He plays guitar in a band with two friends, but he wanted to do more.

RMHC Toronto created the role in the Family Room earlier this year after watching how families reacted to a dad who began playing his guitar in the space.

“It was very well received by other families, so we thought, why not turn it into a program,” says Olivia. “Music brings people together. It creates community and a supportive environment in the room.”

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While Tyler doesn’t volunteer for the accolades, he is pleased when he gets a reaction.

Sometimes it’s a simple as “Awesome tune!”

“When people say ‘Thank you for playing,’ then I know they like it,” he says.

He remembers fondly the time an 11-year-old boy came over and started asking him a lot of questions about guitars because he wanted to become a guitar player himself.

“Tyler was like a celebrity to this boy,” laughs Olivia.

Tyler says he is surprised by how comfortable he’s been in the Family Room from the first day. And he says the staff made his feel welcome.

The feeling is mutual.

Says Marina Bourlak, RMHC Toronto Duty Coordinator, “It’s so relaxing to work the Wednesday night shift because Tyler is here.”

Tyler takes the opportunity of playing in the Family Room to develop his performance skills and his repertoire. He’s currently working on perfecting the song, “More than Words” by Extreme. It’s a difficult one to learn, he says.

But for a young man whose job is to use music to soothe and brighten the lives of families, there couldn’t be a more appropriate title.

Visit our website to learn more about volunteering at RMHC Toronto.