Providing volunteer experiences to support patient recovery
by Laura Guzman, Co-Manager, The Bookmark Bookstore
The brain is an amazing organ. It is constantly being bombarded by sensory experiences – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile experiences – and can miraculously process all these things simultaneously. But for a brain that is recovering from a traumatic injury, this can be overwhelming. A recovering brain must re-enter our dynamic world slowly and patiently.
The Centre for Neuro Skills (CNS) is a national network of clinics that provide a range of support services for people who have experienced a neurological impairment, from stroke to traumatic brain injury. This includes occupational therapy, physical therapy, cognitive rehabilitation, speed language pathology and counseling – all services focused on helping their patients get back to the community, work or home.
An important component of a patient’s treatment is finding opportunities to get reintroduced to the community and relearn the skills required to function in our busy world. In order to do this, counselors work with their patients to identify a volunteering experience, such as a clerical position or volunteering in a bookstore like the Bookmark, to take those first steps.
“This is where you guys come in,” says Celine Tsui, an occupational therapist with CNS. “To be a part of their community experience.”
The Bookmark Bookstore has been partnering with CNS since 2019. Patients who choose the bookstore as a volunteer experience contribute in much the same way any other volunteer does, assisting with tasks like shelving and sorting. They are accompanied by a therapist – who also gets to lend a hand while they’re there – to help monitor their progress.
“A lot of our patients have difficulty with environments that are way too stimulating,” said Tsui. “The bookstore is a quieter place, but you are still able to develop all of these ski
A current volunteer, Joe Spezza, has been volunteering at the Bookmark for a couple of months now. He is recovering from a brain injury and volunteering at the bookstore has been a valuable part of the recovery process for him.
“There was a lot that I lost in my life,” said Joe. “I've lost my spark and my ambition to do the things I did before. I'm also a lot shyer than I was, so a bookstore seemed to be a good match to get me back on my feet and get out.”
Joe particularly enjoys the task of sorting books because it gives him a chance to look at a lot of different titles – and score some great finds for both his kids and himself!
“I'm thankful to have this opportunity to volunteer and to give to this community,” said Joe.
“There’s so much that [our patients] can learn here,” said Tsui. “All the staff have been really friendly, flexible, and understanding. When someone has a brain injury it can be difficult, but they feel understood and supported throughout their time there.”
Since we began our partnership with CNS began in 2019, the Bookmark has supported 10 patients. After a hiatus during COVID, we restarted the program in 2022 and look forward to continuing to provide meaningful volunteer opportunities that support individuals’ recovery and connection with our community.