This is the first in a series of volunteer profiles for Volunteer Recognition Week.
Sometimes when Petros is walking in the mall, a little child will run up and wrap his arms around him. Or he’ll hear someone call his name, turn around to see a teen he doesn’t recognize, and then realize that this youth was once a child he drove to school on a daily basis.
As a volunteer driver for Family and Children’s Services, Petros has made a difference in the lives of many children and families. By his calculation, over the past decade he’s done more than 10,000 drives, first as a contract driver and (since last June) as a volunteer. That’s a big contribution.
But Petros stresses the difference his young passengers have made to him. “I thought they would learn from me, but I am the one who learns from them.”
What have the children taught him? First, he says: “Everyone, from babies to adults, needs respect.” Secondly, that sometimes just being present is what matters: “ Sometimes children want to joke around with you and listen to their favourite music. Other times, especially after a visit with parents, they want to be quiet and not talk. So you are quiet, but you are still there for them and that’s what they need.”
Petros arrived at Family and Children’s Services with years of volunteer experience already on his resume. He drove cancer patients, the elderly, and people with special needs to hospital and medical visits at first. “Then someone told me about hospice needing volunteers to help people in their last days who had nobody, no friends or family,” he says. At first, he hesitated, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it. In the end, Petros actually paid the training fees himself because he’d become so eager to help out at the hospice.
The hospice work was difficult at times, he admits, but also taught him the value of “just being there for the person who needs you.”
He discovered Family and Children’s Services after moving to Cambridge with Melanie, now his wife and mother of their seven-year-old son. Melanie came to the agency to apply as a volunteer; Petros thought he’d wait for her at Tim Horton’s but eventually decided he might as well apply too. He was quickly hired as a contract driver. “I drove around 32 kids each week,” he says (and has continued driving nearly as many as a volunteer). “The Transportation staff are like family to me, they do their best to make it easy for me.”
Why does he keep on volunteering? “You realize that there is someone looking for your help, someone who really needs you,” Petros explains. “That’s the motivation. You see that child’s face in your mind and that motivates you. You have that connection.”
Petros says he tells people who are considering trying a volunteer role: “Just try it. Just tell yourself you’ll do it once or twice to see if you like it.” He smiles his engaging grin: “I say that because I know, once you try it, you aren’t going to want to stop.”