A Fireside Chat with the Walkers

By Rick Burns (as published in the January 2024 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter)

It was an unseasonably mild, late December afternoon as I was preparing to meet with David and Mary Walker to speak about their experiences with ABLE2. 

As I approached their front door, I was met by Mary’s welcoming, smiling face as she invited me into their warm, cozy home. The fireplace, the Christmas cards strewn about, the lights of their tree – a stark contrast to the otherwise grey, gloomy day outside. 

With quick introductions and formalities aside, David had already begun to pour us all a drink as we sat for our chat.  With such warm introductions, I was quickly at ease, which is not all that surprising considering that they had previously been described to me as “a dynamic duo” and “bright lights in our ABLE2 family”.  

As we took our first sips, Mary and David described their experiences with ABLE2 and what incented them to get involved over ten years go now. Without hesitation, they pointed to their Catholic faith and desire to be a positive, loving force in the world. Wanting to do good for others and the community, they began searching out volunteering opportunities online, eventually coming across ABLE2 and its matching program. Already fully employed, they were seeking something personal and rewarding – not something that would feel like a second job. They were immediately drawn to the idea of a personal, one-on-one experience to help someone in need – helping people just by showing up and being themselves, which is all that it usually takes to let an otherwise isolated member of the community know they are valued and not alone. 

As I came to learn, Mary had several matches and connections over the years.  She described her current match to Barbara, a woman in her 70s with an intellectual disability, who she sees every Sunday for an hour or so at her long-term care home.  Mary connects with Barbara through art; they like to colour together and then hang up their pictures on the wall to decorate and brighten up Barbara’s room. Without much family, Mary acts as Barbara’s lifeline to the outside world and helps get her out of her shell.  Although their conversations are limited sometimes, Mary has found that there is a relaxing, almost meditative aspect to making art side by side with someone without any pressure or expectations to entertain. The only real requirement for her is to be present and to share space and time doing an enjoyable activity.  She has discovered that there is something uniquely rewarding about having someone in your life that is truly and genuinely happy to see you each and every time without fail. 

David has been matched now with Sheldon, a man with a visual impairment, for the last 10 years and sees him on a weekly basis, noting that his Tuesday afternoons would not be the same without him! David helps Sheldon with things like shopping and banking, but mostly is there just to chat, listen and be present – as good friends do.  Over the course of their friendship, David has also become increasingly close with Sheldon’s extended family, who together act as invaluable pillars of support in his life.  Over the years, their relationship has evolved, from a friendship enabled by ABLE2 to a relationship that is more like family. David affectionately refers to Sheldon, who is now in his eighties, as his uncle. He also confirmed that even if ABLE2 ceased to exist tomorrow, they would still be a big part of each other’s lives – which is the ultimate testament to the power of the ABLE2’s matching program.  

As the interview (and my delicious beer) was coming to an end, I asked my standard concluding question: what would they say to someone who is considering getting involved in ABLE2? 

David pointed to the direct “pay off” one can receive in engaging in such a personal experience, getting to know someone else and seeing first-hand the difference one can make in someone’s life.  He underlined that there is no catch – only an opportunity to do a bit of good in the world. And, you may even be surprised that it will do as much good for them as it does for you!

Mary, nodding her head in agreement, was quick to point out how well-supported she felt by ABLE2 every step of the way, during of the matching process itself and afterwards once the relationship began.  While she understands why someone may feel apprehensive about getting involved and engaging in someone else’s life in this way, she referred to the caring and professional team at ABLE2 who are always there to offer support and advice every step of the way, no matter what challenge may come up as the relationship unfolds. 

The Walkers are such friendly, pleasant people and we are all better for having them as active members in the community.  There was no better way to enjoy the strange liminal time between Christmas and New Year’s than connecting with such good people over a drink and good conversation – I look forward to our paths crossing again! 

By Rick Burns