Volunteer Profile: Catherine Merlin
Interview by Charles Leibovitch
We, at Jewish Seniors Alliance Peer Support Services, are fortunate to have as one of our senior peer support volunteers, Catherine Merlin, whose passion for life – helping others, and her experience as a yoga teacher – are skills that together define her capacity for awareness of emotional needs, for listening and caring for other people.
Born in Paris, Catherine became aware more acutely of the needs of seniors when both her parents’ health began to decline. Her mother had a stroke and Catherine travelled frequently to care for and spend time with her mother. Her father passed away in 2012 and her mother passed away in 2017.
Soon afterwards, Catherine saw a JSA Peer Support advertisement offering a free training course in the Senior Peer Support Program with Grace Hann. The ad piqued her curiosity, but she did not really know what the training entailed. She began the training course about two years ago. She then met a variety of other volunteers, realizing that she would not have normally encountered them in her day-to-day life.
While taking the training, she made some new friends and new connections, taking away the realization that all human beings were meant to connect with others on a social, emotional and community level.
She felt that some of the volunteers in the training course felt isolated themselves.
Upon completion of her training, Catherine was assigned two clients, providing them with active and reflective listening which she had learned from the senior peer support course taught by Grace Hann, our peer support volunteer trainer and supervisor. Catherine began to share her yoga practice with one of her clients to help her feel proactive in her recovery.
After a few months as a volunteer, Catherine approached Grace and myself with the idea of launching a new JSA program called ‘Listening Moments’. Last year, Catherine organized several ‘Listening Moments’ pop-ups in community squares with our volunteers from JSA Peer Support Services, greeting people and offering an attentive ear. The program was well received and the ‘Listening Moments’ took place several times at Jim Deva Plaza on Davie Street last Summer, at the Georgia Square at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and in Kingsgate Mall during the Winter time.
During the daytime, Catherine works in advertising and is soon retiring. She is very much looking forward to her retirement. Catherine confided that practicing and teaching yoga seems to be her life purpose. Her interest in helping others and adding her practice and teaching of yoga, love of cycling and her own journey caring for her parents have resulted in her being an inspiration as well as a caring and compassionate listener to her clients.