Front desk volunteer, Elda McDowell, has been a part of Wellspring Westerkirk since the centre opened in 1999. A friend of Wellspring founder Anne Armstrong Gibson, Elda’s husband, Ted, was part of the original committee that helped Anne realize her dream of creating a cancer support network.
“She was a force to be reckoned with,” says Elda.“ She captivated my husband and then as soon as Wellspring got going, he was encouraging me to join in.”
For 17 years, Elda has worked the front desk, greeting new and returning members, answering the phone and answering questions about Wellspring. “Being on the front desk is the front line and you actually just see the difference. I feel so fortunate to be a part of all this,” she says. “I can see the difference it makes in people’s lives.”
Over the years Elda has seen Wellspring change and grow, all while staying true to its core mission to meet the psychological, emotional and educational needs of individuals and families living with cancer. “The expansion in programs is something I don’t think even Anne envisioned,” she says. “But what hasn’t changed is the way we deal with people.” For Elda, it’s that personal touch that resonates with members.
A long-time volunteer on several different committees over the years, Elda found a personal connection with Anne’s vision to give people the tools to cope with a cancer diagnosis. “In my family there have been eight people who were stricken with cancer, so I could relate to what Anne was trying to do,” she says. That connection has only grown with time. “It was Anne who brought me to Wellspring, but it’s the members who have kept me here.”
Elda says she likes getting to spend time with members and seeing the effect that Wellspring has on people living with cancer. “You almost feel like you’re a partner with the people who come through the door. Some of them you get to know pretty well,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how old they are, or where they are in their cancer journey. When they leave here, they leave with something that can help them get through the day.”
Something else that keeps Elda coming back to Wellspring is the relationship she’s formed with other volunteers and staff members. “None of us are here because we have to be. We’re here because we want to be,” she says. “I think it’s the same for staff as Well, because once you come to Wellspring you’re pretty much hooked.”
For Elda, the impact of working at Wellspring goes far beyond the amount of time she’s put in. “You can’t measure it in volunteer hours, the benefit that I’ve derived from it. Wellspring has been a gift. It’s a gift from Anne. It’s been a gift to my family and it’s a gift to everybody.” Elda has spent the last 17 years sharing that gift with others, helping to ensure that people living with cancer and their families receive access to support, community and knowledge.
“People talk to me and say, ‘Oh you work at a cancer centre. That must be so depressing.’ It’s not; it’s the most uplifting thing that I have ever done. ”
You can hear more from Elda and her husband, Ted, in this video tribute to Anne Armstrong Gibson. Click here to watch.