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Holiday Heroes: Heather and Ken White

Ken and Heather White are longtime volunteers with the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation.

It doesn’t take long to see why one leader at Thunder Bay’s regional hospital calls Heather and Ken White a “volunteering power couple.”

The pair have become go-to volunteers for the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) and its charitable foundation after years of work supporting patients and efforts to raise funds for the hospital.

They can often be found selling 50/50 tickets or lending a hand at charitable events such as the Save a Heart Ball and the Motorcycle Ride for Dad.

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed off in-person volunteer opportunities, the couple filled out thousands of mail-out packages for the hospital’s 50/50 draw from their home.

That’s also when Heather began volunteering in the hospital itself, helping out in the pediatric unit, accompanying patients, and offering wayfinding support to patients and visitors.

She plays down those efforts, adding she gets more out of volunteering than she puts in. She also mentioned that volunteers play a crucial support role at the hospital.

“It's a scary place for some people,” Heather said. “You know, they’re worried about somebody who's in there or anxious; it's a big place to walk, they're not sure where they're going.

"Just having somebody accompany them [to] the area they're going or if they're going for tests, they're nervous, and you just try to talk to them a little bit and help them relax a little bit. So if there's any way you can make them feel a little bit better, then you feel better too, and they’re very gracious in thanking you for whatever little thing you do.”

Heather’s drive to help people at the hospital stems in part from her own childhood experiences.

“When I was 10, I was sick in the hospital and [there] for an extended stay,” she recalled. “I just remember the nurses always being so kind.”

Even as a young patient, White was keen to help out – she remembers asking a nurse to show her how to properly make the bed so she could contribute.

“It all goes back to that – it was always, when I get older and I have time, then I want to get back and be able to help,” she said. “I'm certainly not a nurse, but if I can help them in any way.”

The couple have been volunteering since their own children were young for organizations including the Staal Open, the U18 Baseball World Cup, and Special Olympics.

Now, Heather and Ken share their passion for volunteerism with the next generation, sometimes bringing their 11-year-old grandson along.

Heather says children quickly realize the satisfaction that can come from helping others.

“I think it's important for the younger generation to give back,” she said. “My saying to him all the time is, ‘Choose to be kind.' I think it's really important to stress that volunteering is so rewarding all around, that it should be encouraged – and what better way to start [than] with your own family?”

Click here to learn more about our Holiday Heroes series and keep up with profiles that will be published throughout December.
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