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Sunny Hill volunteer gives 15,500-plus hours of service over nearly 60 years

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​Former Sunny Hill patient Paul Irwin with Arden Robertson - photos taken in 1977 and circa 2000.

Arden Robertson first stepped inside BC Children’s Hospital Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children on April 9, 1959. At the time, he had no idea that he’d spend approximately 15,500-plus hours over the next 59 years (and counting) volunteering with children, youth and their families and become a beloved addition to the extended Sunny Hill family. 

Arden began volunteering as a non-denominational chaplain providing spiritual care and Sunday school programs to countless children with multiple and severe disabilities, most non-verbal, and some medically fragile. It was immediately evident that Arden not only fully accepted and included all of these children, but he was also able to naturally convey a unique and genuine kindness and compassion.  

“It struck me how Arden cut through the trappings of disability and truly saw these children like any others – human beings who needed love,” said Sheila Kennedy, who first met Arden in 1982 when she began her career at Sunny Hill. “And wow – was he able to give this in spades! The core spirit of each child is recognized and celebrated whenever Arden is in the room.” 

Arden has led a life of giving—giving his time, energy and service. From a young age, he has always been motivated by helping others. “When I was a kid and if our neighbours were older, I’d shovel their walk ways,” said Arden. “My goal has always been to help people all the way through, whatever I can do to help.”

His contributions are many – over the years Arden organized and led a number of memorial services for children and was able to do this in a respectful way that sincerely honoured the child’s life. Again and again Arden has offered his support to grieving children, families and staff coping with the loss of a child.

“These young children, boys and girls, are human beings and one thing we all need is love. I feel as an outsider, if I can show them love and kindness, even with a smile, that means a lot to the children and it means more to me because I am blessed by seeing them and by being able to be with them,” said Arden.  

In the late 1980’s, an extended care unit closed at Sunny Hill which saw approximately 30 children move to homes within the community. After this shift, Arden continued his visits once or twice a week on a smaller inpatient unit, offering his nurturing touch and cultivating empathetic relationships with everyone he met.

Not only has Arden been there for the children, but he has also greatly supported Sunny Hill staff, particularly the nursing, social work, and therapeutic recreation staff.

“I can attest to the fact that he gives the best hugs around and is always ready to share a smile,” said Sheila. “I cannot imagine Sunny Hill without Arden’s presence – he is part of Sunny Hill and Sunny Hill is part of him.”

Arden’s life is an inspiring example of compassion in action and the benefits of these actions to the community have been immeasurable.

“That’s my whole life, just volunteering and helping where I can,” said Arden.

Many children at Sunny Hill have complex medical, physical and developmental needs affecting physical, motor or sensory development or have acquired brain injury, prenatal exposure to alcohol or other drugs, cerebral palsy, or autism. Sunny Hill Health Centre works with children, youth and their families by providing specialized development and rehabilitation services. 

BC Children's Hospital
Children's Health
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