Seeing Heidi Bradley read aloud from the Saanich News, surrounded by a group of people four-times her age, isn’t uncommon at Berwick House on Shelbourne Street.
“She’ll have a whole table of them sitting there hanging on every word,” says Kendra King, recreation manager at Berwick. “She has just been absolutely wonderful, she’s just a go-getter, yet quiet and understated.”
The 17-year-old Reynolds secondary student volunteers twice a week at the seniors’ home, running activities, making tea, leading chair exercises, organizing other programs and helping with larger functions. In seemingly simple acts of interaction, she socializes, listens to tales of experience and reads to the residents.
“It’s nice to have somebody to have us help do the programs … that we just don’t physically have the manpower to do sometimes,” King says. “It takes some of the pressure off of us.”
The Grade 12 student started working at Berwick House because of a sport and health class requirement, but quickly fell in love with the place.
“There’s so much more to them than these just little old ladies sitting in a room,” Bradley says, adding that residents love to talk of first dates and young crushes. “I think I’m going to do a lot more there because I have so much fun.”
The work even shifted her post-secondary aspirations, from a future in environmental sciences to a career helping seniors.
“Kendra looks like she has so much fun going to work every day. I want to do what she does or something along those lines,” Bradley says.
The teen works under King’s direction in recreation, primarily in the care unit, where residents require a little more help.
“It’s so nice getting them out of their rooms and leading little exercise classes, or even just getting them to all drum together or listen to music,” she says. “I like sitting around and listening to music, so why wouldn’t they? I like seeing them having a good time and keeping busy.”
Bradley is busy. The competitive swimmer and full-time student is in the pool nine times a week, with four additional gym sessions interspersed.
“She’ll come here literally drying her braid with a towel and run in to do something with the residents,” King says.
With Island Swimming since she was eight, Bradley competed at the 2012 Olympic trials and the 2011 and 2013 World trials, and she represented B.C. at the 2013 Canada Games in Sherbrooke, Que.
“She’s extremely driven, dedicated, very committed to her sport,” says Dave Ravenhill, athletic director at Reynolds. “To this point she’s done everything she can do to set herself up to train hard and get to the national level.”
She’s been on the swim team her entire tenure at Reynolds and has won four gold medals at high school provincials. Conventional classroom schooling gets dropped on occasion between training camps and swim meets.
“It’s hard to balance things, but I’ve always put school first. I’m not a procrastinator,” she says. “I just have a lot of after-school dates with my teachers trying to understand stuff.”
Her work and dedication – and maintaining a position on the honour roll – paid off with a four-year athletic scholarship to the University of Denver come September, where she plans to earn a degree in International Studies, while minoring in French.
“To get a full ride scholarship at a big U.S. school like Denver is something,” Ravenhill says. “She puts 100 per cent into everything she does. You expect that of a high-achieving athlete – they don’t know how to put 50 per cent in.”
King sees Bradley’s dedication as an athlete spill over into who she is as a person, meeting commitments without cutting corners. King says Bradley shows initiative, is dedicated, and takes her responsibilities seriously.
“She always shows up when she says she’s going to come,” King says. “Once she’s been shown something once, she just goes and does it. She doesn’t just sit there and wait for us to tell her what to do.”
Learning to listen and interact with seniors, some with dementia, can be a difficult task, King says. But Bradley does it all with a smile and a patient attitude – whether that’s repeatedly showing a resident how to use their email program or answering the same question multiple times.
Bradley says she enjoys the work, and intends to keep getting hours in at Berwick House through the summer before heading to university in the fall.
“She goes out of her way to help the residents without being asked,” King says. “She’s just a really nice girl. The residents love her. I’m going to treasure her while I have her.”
Other stories in this series
YOUTH INSPIRED: Turning awkward moments into positive memories (Grace Boothman, Pacific Christian School)
YOUTH INSPIRED: Making a little hello go a long way (Sage Broomfield, Claremont seconday school)
YOUTH INSPIRED: Building community connections (Tamiko Sianen, Mount Douglas secondary)
YOUTH INSPIRED: Passion and patience (Cindy Kim, St. Michaels University School)
YOUTH INSPIRED: Lighting the way for other kids (Beth Langkamer, Spectrum community school)