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Our Community: Hospital worker swims for seniors; concert aids Ukrainians

Lucas Gentina is raising money to buy high-end ­wheelchairs designed to expand the horizons of the residents he sees every ­working day.

Hospital worker swims to buy wheelchairs for seniors

Lucas Gentina is again taking the plunge into chilly local waters. He is raising money to buy high-end ­wheelchairs designed to expand the horizons of ­bedridden residents he sees every ­working day.

This will be 23-year-old Gentina’s ­second money-raising venture this year.

In January, he swam across Elk Lake and raised $11,700 to buy specialized wheelchairs, which cost a minimum $4,000 each, for Saanich Peninsula ­Hospital. Now, he hopes to raise enough money to buy at least six more of these special wheelchairs, bringing the total at the ­hospital to 12.

On May 15, Gentina aims to swim across the Saanich Inlet from Mill Bay to Madrona Drive and Wain Road in Deep Cove. A boat from Frank Whites Dive Store will accompany him.

Gentina will put on his wetsuit and enter the water at 10 a.m. and hopes to finish in 60 to 90 minutes.

He has been training at a pool in the ocean with a friend nearby on a ­paddleboard.

The wheelchairs make a profound ­difference in the lives of bedridden patients, Gentina said.

Some patients are unable to sit in ­traditional wheelchairs and end up s­pending their days in bed. But the ­wheelchair Gentina is raising money to buy can be adjusted to suit individuals.

“It makes a huge difference when you have something comfortable to sit in,” he said. “The chair allows users to enjoy ­different aspects of our life that you probably couldn’t do if you’re not sitting on something enjoyable.

“When people still have their mental abilities but are unable to sit up unaided, there is more to their life than lying in bed all day.”

Gentina, who earned credentials as an occupational therapist assistant and physiotherapy assistant, has worked as a rehabilitation assistant at the hospital for nearly three years, helping people to walk and maintain their range of motion.

“I want to get them out of bed and into situations where they can socialize and join in the activities that are planned in long-term care,” he said.

Jan Buehler, director of philanthropy for the Saanich Peninsula Hospital & Healthcare Foundation, said Gentina believes in being positive.

“He loves to chat and nothing gives him greater satisfaction than seeing elders respond when he chats with them,” Buehler said. ”He encourages them to share their life story and is constantly amazed at what some people have done over the years.”

• To donate to Gentina’s campaign, go to

Award winners highlight mental health, homelessness

A teenager who started a foundation to raise awareness about homelessness and a college student whose recovery from mental illness was documented in a film are the winners of Island Health’s 2022 Community Service Awards.

Marjike McDonald and Cameron Webster were presented their awards on Tuesday by the Mental Health and ­Substance Use South Island Advisory Committee during Mental Health Week.

In 2020, at age 16, McDonald started the charity Home Is Where The Heart Is, over concerns about growing ­homelessness. “The feeling of just not being able to help was really frustrating for me,” said McDonald, a student at ­St. Margaret’s School. “The unhoused community in ­Victoria is a vital part of our community, and I really wanted to get to know that side of Vancouver Island.”

An initial project to collect donations for a dozen care packages drew such a strong response that more than 50 packages were created. Today, McDonald and her foundation colleagues as well as other high school students are planning an event where people, unhoused and ­otherwise, will be encouraged to share stories and make connections.

“Something that’s really stood out to me is that everyone just wants to be heard,” says McDonald. “That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned — we will find the most success when we finally start to listen to each other.”

Webster showed courage and vulnerability in Follow My Brain, a 2019 film that documents his journey with, and recovery from, mental illness. In 2014, Webster had psychosis, and then with schizoaffective disorder, diagnosed. The latter has symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorders. “The main goal in doing the film was just to instill more hope, to tell a more auspicious story of recovery,” said Webster, 26. “I wanted to kind of change that narrative if I could.”

He is nearing completion of his studies in mental health and addictions at Camosun College. An avid athlete, Webster is also a peer support worker with Island Health’s Early Psychosis Intervention Program.

“There’s so many things you can do. As well as just time and effort – things get better,” said Webster.

“It takes time, but you know you can get there. The person who moves mountains starts by carrying away small stones, right?”

Exhibit explores impact of pandemic in long-term care

Megan Davies, a health historian and professor at York University, has brought her travelling art exhibit, COVID in the House of Old, to her hometown, honouring the thousands of seniors who died or endured months of isolation as the pandemic spread through long-term care facilities across the country.

The exhibit opened on Monday and will be at the Greater Victoria Public Library’s Central Branch in downtown Victoria throughout May.

Davies uses seven wooden chairs, sound and speakers to tell the story of residents, survivor-residents and workers from British Columbia and Ontario whose lives were altered by the rapid spread of COVID through long-term care facilities. Each chair represents the hundreds or thousands of Canadians who faced similar circumstances. The exhibit is accompanied by an audio-visual composition created with aggregate death statistics projected on the wall in the library entrance.

Davies worked with audio engineer and composer Kohen Hammond to craft the chair audios. Elegy was composed by musician and composer Hiroki Tanaka. Davies said she sees the exhibit as an opportunity to honour and inform and generate conversation about the future of elder care, as highlighted by the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on vulnerable elders.

“Canadians may not yet realize — let alone reflect on — how we failed our vulnerable elders,” Davies said in a statement.

“But the mass deaths of seniors in care facilities during the pandemic makes finding a radical new future for elder care a major issue of our time. Our parents, our children and our future selves will judge us on the quality of our response.”

The exhibit, located in the rotunda at GVPL’s Central Branch, is linked to a website by QR codes with alt texts and online transcripts of the audio, allowing visitors to amplify the sound. The project is supported by a Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellowship in the Humanities and the Department of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University and York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies.

Sooke hands out community grants

Sooke council has awarded community grants worth nearly $80,000 to 19 non-profit organizations.

“The commitment from numerous organizations to support our community is truly remarkable,” said Sooke Mayor Maja Tait. Council appreciates the organizations that enhance the community’s “inclusivity, vibrancy and community well-being,” Tait said.

The groups receiving $7,000 grants included Amber Academy Fine Arts Society, Harmony Project Sooke, KidSport Greater Victoria, Sooke Boxing Club, Sooke Family Resource Society and Sooke Shelter Society.

The Choral Evolution Society, Take a Hike Foundation and South Island Performing Arts Society each received $5,000, and Steps to the Future Childcare Society received $5,500.

Other recipients included Caravan Stage Society ($3,400), Edward Milne Community School Society ($4,100 Youth Engagement, $500 Sooke Literacy Project), FED Urban Agriculture Society ($1,000), Sooke Fall Fair ($2,000), Sooke Festival Society ($3,000), Sooke Tennis and Pickleball ($4,800), Victoria Brain Injury Society ($1,000) and Capital Bike ($1,140).

Peninsula concert aids Ukrainians

Help for the victims of the war in Ukraine comes from all over — including a private concert on the Saanich Peninsula.

An event at the home of Dr. Michael Quinlan and Teresa Quinlan raised $11,00o for Doctors Without Borders’ efforts to alleviate the suffering. The concert featured the band Cowboy Celtic, including North Saanich residents David Wilkie and Denise Withnell, plus three musicians from Alberta.

Supporter Virginia Watson-Rouslin reports Cowboy Celtic, who play an amalgam of country and Celtic music, kicked off the show with a Ukrainian polka.

The band was getting back in the saddle prior to three appearances with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra this month.