Arden is 90 years old and he’s been volunteering at Sunny Hill for so long, he has children he’s stayed in touch with who are now almost 60 years old.
“Decades ago, I was at Sunny Hill for a tour and we walked past a room, where there was a little six-year-old boy who was paralyzed from the waist down trying to get his boots on,” says Arden. “I stopped to talk to him and the rest of the people went on the tour.”
That little boy is now 59 years old and Arden still stays in contact with him. Arden, an ordained minister, regularly took him out to church or for lunch at White Spot.
“I appreciate his friendship,” says Arden. “If he sees on the news there is a house fire in the area where I live, he’ll call me and say, ‘Was that your house?’ These kids are so special.”
Arden has taught Sunday School at Sunny Hill, but his main goal is to visit with children and families – and provide non-denominational spiritual support where it’s needed.
“I go in to visit the kids and see how they’re doing,” says Arden. “Sometimes I meet with families having a hard time and pray with them. In my heart, I am hurting for them, but I try to help with a cheerful countenance.”
Arden is receiving the Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers, the highest honour for volunteer service that an individual can receive within the Canadian Honours System.
He fits in volunteering amid a busy home life. He worked full-time in kitchen cabinetry for 40 years and retired at age 86. He’s had four children and now has 16 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
“I’ve always had a heart for volunteering,” he says. “When I was 12 years old, every time it snowed, I would be out there, shovelling for my neighbours. I always think, ‘Can I reach out somewhere, where there is no help?’”
Sadly, he lost his oldest daughter and his wife to cancer in recent years. Arden and his wife had volunteered in the prison system together. When she was in the late stages of cancer, she hand-wrote 450 Christmas cards to prisoners in two Greater Vancouver prisons. When the prison held a service after her death, Arden saw the impact their volunteer work had.
“There was this one man who got up at my wife’s service. He had long braided hair and said he’d been in jail for 27 years. In all that time, he’d had no mail from the outside world, but then he got our Christmas card,” says Arden. “Inmates never cry because it shows weakness, but here was this tall guy, who stood up there with tears rolling down his face. The Christmas card made him feel like somebody cared about him. He came over to our family and hugged the three of us.”
Arden says volunteering is just something he feels is important and when he was asked where he wanted his volunteer medal presented, he said he wanted it presented at Sunny Hill.
“The workers there have been really kind to me,” he says. “Once a year, they even invite me out and they have a lunch for me.”
And the staff at Sunny Hill appreciates him too.
“He’s cared for everybody here,” says Cheri Steele, a recreational therapist at Sunny Hill. “There was one night I had to rush off to pick up my kids and I was worried about them. He saw that and the next day, he came to check on me to see that everything was OK. He always does these little things. He’s like that for everybody. He’s just a really special guy.”