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Graduation Class of Spring 2016

Graduation Class Of Spring 2016

Grace phoned me about a week-and-a-half ago, and asked if I would say a few words this evening on behalf of our class. I asked her for some clarification: should I talk about my experience with the JSA Peer Support program, or my personal learning experience, or my classmates, or the quality of the instruction I received, or my thoughts and feelings around volunteering, or my observations about the JSA programs in general? She answered “Yes, that would be good. Five or ten minutes would be fine.”

So, I’m going to speak about several aspects of my personal experience: about volunteering, about my classmates, about the JSA Peer Support program, and about the program leadership.



Many of you in this room are experienced volunteers. You have been involved in volunteer work for months, or years. It’s part of your life, of who you are. I, however, am a neophyte, a “newbie”. I’ve only recently begun to understand the value of volunteering.

Over the years, I had all the usual reasons for not becoming a volunteer: no time, too much work, children to take care of, no volunteering skills. I’m sure you’ve heard them all. I have a box on my desk with a label that says “Roundtoits”.

I’ve mentally put all the things that I haven’t gotten around to starting, in that box. “I’ll do that as soon as I can get a roundtoit.” For me, volunteering has always been in that box.


In the spring of 2016 I decided to get a “roundtoit” for volunteering, and peer counselling was the path I chose.

The class of 2016

It’s difficult to talk about something passionately without using cliched adjectives, like “incredible”, “amazing” “fabulous”, “awesome”. In our final peer support training session, while trying to make a point, Grace taught us this about superlatives: when describing something you feel strongly about, you can use the word “very” as many times as you want. Just keep going until you feel you’ve hit the right number.


In that spirit, I want to say that I am very, very, very…very thankful to have been included in this group of very, very, very…warm, caring, talented, smart, witty, hard-working people. By way of introduction, please meet David, Karon, Galina, Vladimir, Roxanne, Greta, Cyrile, Jacqueline, Monica, Jessica, and Nancy. Our second Nancy was unable to be with us this evening.

Our class includes a wide range of personalities, skills, and talents. I’m fortunate to have made new friends with people from all backgrounds.

We’re a truly diverse group. I learned that the 13 of us were born in at least seven different countries. About half of the class is fluent in at least two languages. We have very a wide range of education and work backgrounds. We represent the whole spectrum of volunteer experience: some people have already been volunteering for years; others, like me, are novices.

The JSA Peer Support Program

For me, this program has been the beginning of a wonderful journey. I discovered in one of our first sessions that all of us in the group shared a desire to learn, a thirst for knowledge about a common theme – peer support. To satisfy that thirst, we have been taught, and have started to practice, a whole new set of skills over the eleven weeks of our training. We have learned to listen. How to listen actively. We have learned the difference between empathy and sympathy. We have learned to be attentive to someone else, and to understand that, often, that person is trying to solve a problem, and wants,

more than anything, for someone to listen to them, to hear them without judging, to reflect their predicament, but not to solve it screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-2-25-41-pmfor them. This is the essence of the JSA Peer Support program.

I’m truly grateful to have been given the opportunity to spend so much time with such wonderful classmates. Talking to them, listening to them, sharing with them, learning from them. They have enriched my life immeasurably.

I’ve already found that the skills I’ve learned have altered the way I relate to some of my friends, my colleagues, my employees. Even my family. I’m now eager to get started as a peer counsellor, to help someone who needs a listener.

Charles and Grace

So, how did this group happen to come together? Obviously, not by chance. There were a number of applicants for the spring Senior Peer Support training program. Like any equal-opportunity situation, there was a screening process to fill the available spaces. Each of us was interviewed – by phone and/or in person – for a seat in the class. I’m certain that it was only because of skillful and discerning interview techniques, by two very special people, that we became the “Graduating Class of Spring 2016”.

Charles Leibovitch is the JSA Peer Support Services Coordinator

Many of you already know him. My personal contact with Charles has so far been brief. He was part of my initial interview for the Peer Support program. He came to one of our early classes to introduce himself, and I have had a chance to speak with him briefly at a few screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-2-25-48-pmshorter encounters since then. While I can’t say that I know Charles well, it seems clear to me from the sophistication, efficiency, professionalism, and success of the Peer Support Program, that Charles is a dedicated and competent professional member of the JSAlliance team. I look forward to getting to know him better.

Grace Hann, JSAlliance Senior Peer Support Services Trainer, Supervisor

I’m certain that I speak for all of us when I say that Grace is a “very, very” special lady. These are some of the things we have learned about Grace:

She’s passionate about volunteering, about volunteer training, about senior issues, about advocacy.

She feels strongly about family, about gardening, about hiking, about meeting new people every chance she gets (Grace seems to constantly have new stories about people she has met, and talked to, on most of her commutes between Vancouver and her home on Sunshine Coast).

She’s a role model. She leads by example. She gives freely and generously of her time and knowledge. She’s a natural teacher and mentor.

In a time when personal communication, face to face conversations, people actually talking to each other, are fast losing ground to earbuds and thumb-typing and a “you mind your business, I’ll mind mine” mentality, Grace is a renaissance woman. She reaches out to people, she embraces them. She shows that she cares who they are, and she gently brings them into her life.

I’m sure I speak for the whole class when I extend a “very” heartfelt thanks to Charles and Grace for guiding us on the beginning of this journey. We hope the relationship will be a long and rewarding one for all of us.

Bob Finkelstein


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