PEI

Why an 87-year-old P.E.I. woman is volunteering with seniors younger than herself

From calling bingo to taking them to picnics, meet the 87-year-old P.E.I. woman who's volunteering to help with seniors, some who are younger than herself.

'Marilla is our number one go-to person'

For Marilla Millar, left, kindness comes over a long life of caring. Not only did she raise her own six children, she also fostered 139 kids over 40 years. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Marilla Millar is not your typical volunteer. In fact, the 87-year-old from Ellersllie, about 40 kilometres northwest of Summerside, is older than many of the seniors she comforts at the home in Tyne Valley.

"Seeing them happy is really the big thing," she said. Millar first started volunteering at the home five years ago. 

"My sister-in-law was in here and I used to come to see her every day," Millar said. "Then I just continued because I enjoyed meeting other residents and doing little things for them."

"It doesn't take much to lift their spirits,' says Millar. 'Even sometimes just to sit alongside of them.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

Millar volunteers for two hours at a time, usually three times a week. The recreation therapist, Crystal Gardiner, recalled the first time she met Millar.

Gardiner herself had just been hired at the home, and was looking for volunteers who are essential to help run activities. 

'She was full of love'

"Marilla was one of the people that came forward to see if there was any way that she could volunteer," Gardiner said. 

"So in came this beautiful lady and she was full of life and she was full of love and she was just wanting to help and it didn't matter what I wanted to do, she was game."

'In came this beautiful lady and she was full of life and she was full of love,' says recreation therapist Crystal Gardiner. (Pat Martel/CBC)

One of the many activities Millar helps out with is bingo. She calls the numbers, but she also helps those seniors who can't fully participate, for example those with eye-hand co-ordination or depth perception issues. 

But Gardiner pointed out Millar is careful to not take over completely. "Marilla's kind of there to help them along and not to do it for them."

'There's not much she don't help with.'

"She can help them place the chip where it goes, or if they can't find the number she can show them so she's just there as a support and as a friend," Gardiner said.

"Oh, she's great," said resident Pauline Diamond. "Marilla does everything. Pushing the wheelchair. There's not much she don't help with."

'I enjoy it and hopefully I can do it for awhile yet,' says Millar. "I love it. I really do.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

Millar often hops in the van when seniors go on an outing. "You go out just for a drive, go picking apples. They love to go to Tim Hortons," Millar said.  

'Seeing them happy is really the big thing.'

But Millar does more than just see the sights. She helps Gardiner get the residents in and out of the van. "That's a big job. Get them off, then get them back on again and get them back off again," Millar said.

"It's consuming. It is a lot of work, but there's a lot of enjoyment in it, too," said Millar. "Seeing them happy is really the big thing."

'Marilla calls the numbers, but she also helps those seniors who can't fully participate, for example those with eye-hand co-ordination or depth perception,' says Gardiner. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The work doesn't stop there. The home puts on a daily coffee house and when Millar is there, she helps pour tea and coffee, hand out the snacks and then helps with the cleanup.

'Babies need you and some seniors need you'

Millar's kindness comes over a long life of caring. Not only did she raise her own six children, she also fostered numerous kids — 139 to be exact — over 40 years. 

"I think that's why volunteering came into it," Millar said. "Babies need you and some seniors need you. 

"Some are pretty active but they do need a little something every now and then."

Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears. "I'm going to cry now. Just happy things."

'Oh, she's great,' says resident Pauline Diamond. 'Marilla does everything. Pushing the wheelchair. There's not much she don't help with.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

When asked what's it like to help the seniors, many who are younger than her she said, "this is going to sound funny, but I don't think I'm old."

'Our number one go-to person'

"Well, I'm not a teenager, I know that," she said. "But I just don't ever think that I'm old. Everybody else does, but I don't."

Millar finds it easy to lift spirits when residents need it. "Sometimes just to sit alongside of them, because some are just quiet, but you just sit down with them and if you can think of something funny to say, to make them laugh," she said. 

'Help give them the tea, pass the cookies around and clean up afterwards' says Millar, who volunteers for two hours, usually three times a week. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"Marilla is our number one go-to person," Gardiner said. "Without our volunteers, our recreation department couldn't do a whole lot of what we do."

For Millar, it's nice to be appreciated. "I enjoy it and hopefully I can do it for awhile yet," she said.

"I love it. I really do."

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About the Author

Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning — from a writer-broadcaster to a producer. This year, Pat joined the web team with an eye to create great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He always welcomes great story ideas that are visually appealing. pat.martel@cbc.ca

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