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Local volunteer works hard to 'make a difference' in people's lives

From Victim Assistance to the tuck shop at Bradford Valley, long-time volunteer Brenda Vernon finds ways to make a difference in others' lives.
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Long-time volunteer Brenda Vernon, at her Bradford West Gwillimbury home. Miriam King/Bradford Today

Brenda Vernon says she began volunteering when she was nearing the end of her 35-year career as a teacher. 

“I was going to retire and I wanted to do something,” she said.

Vernon saw an advertisement in a local newspaper, asking for volunteers for the Barrie and Area Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral (VCARS) program, designed to help victims of crime. She felt it was a good match.

She took a special training course with South Simcoe Police at the Cookstown Outlet Mall, and for the next 15 years, helped to provide confidential support to the victims of violence, robbery, sexual assault and serious collisions in the BWG-Cookstown-Beeton-Tottenham area.

“The police would contact us” whenever there was a need, Vernon said, and two volunteers would be dispatched to meet with victims. “We would give them ideas of what their next step would be,” she explained.

Through her work with VCARS, she felt she was “really helping” those who were suffering the emotional trauma of crime.

Although Vernon eventually had to withdraw from VCARS – a change in policy required volunteers to cover a much broader area and travel a much larger area – she found new activities that let her live up to her belief that “you should do something kind for somebody, every day.”

Brenda Murphy grew up in the Alliston area, and married Cookstown resident Bill Vernon in 1965. Even before her retirement, she was helping her husband at various events as an unofficial volunteer.

Bill was a member of the Georgian Bay Steam Association that organized the annual Georgian Bay Steam Show – at first in Collingwood, and later in Cookstown. He joined 50 years ago and Brenda quickly became an ‘honorary member.’

“I’d go with him and just do things,” she said. “I’d be there helping” both with the food booth,\ and the farmers’ banquets.

She joined the Cookstown Agricultural Society, where husband Bill was a member, and in 1999, the Beeton Lions Club.

“I’m still a Lion,” she said, noting she is now a member of the Bond Head Lions.

It was as a Lion that she discovered another passion: Lions Camp Dorset.

“For people that don’t know, it’s a holiday camp for people on dialysis, with kidney failure,” Vernon said, noting the camp provides a recreational experience for dialysis patients by bringing the nurses, doctors and dialysis machines into a camp setting.

Brenda served as Camp Dorset chair from 2000-2003. That involved travelling across Zone A-12, almost as far as Ottawa, to talk to different Lions Clubs, organize work days at the camp and raise funds.

She’s still involved, helping the Lions keep track of donations and bequests to the camp and acknowledging the generous donations that allow the Lions to continue to support Camp Dorset.

Even with all of that, Brenda has found time to take up another volunteer position. For the past 15 years, she has donated her time at Bradford Valley Care Community, a long-term care facility in Bradford, where she works in the tuck shop.

“You get to meet all the residents that are well enough to come down,” Vernon said.

It’s her habit to smile and greet each resident as they walk past. “They like that,” she said, and her positive attitude and kindness earned her the Volunteer of the Year award at Bradford Valley earlier this year.

“I find it fun,” said Vernon. “I like to make a difference in someone’s life and make them happy – plus it fills in my spare time!”

She shared a quote from Donald Patrick Dunn, first printed in Chicken Soup for the Volunteer’s Soul: “Giving of yourself should be uplifting and joyful. We are at our best when we learn, grow, play and serve each other with love and respect.”