By Vicki Melville Bathurst
Any discussion of the group of volunteers I spoke with this week has to start with Mimi Davis. Not only were most of the volunteers drawn to the program through the sheer passion and enthusiasm of Mimi herself, but she is also the woman who began the program seventeen years ago.
Mimi tells me Respitality is a combination of the two words respite and hospitality. This wonderful and much needed program began in 2000, when, in cooperation with three local hotels, Mimi found a way to give a night off to parents of twenty-five families who were raising children with special needs. Over the years it has turned into a legend in its own right, and in 2008 it received the Community Living BC Association Innovation Award. Mimi has also received numerous accolades in the community for her many years of dedicated service.
This unique program has grown to now partner with close to thirty local hotels, resorts and B&B’s, offering a complimentary overnight stay at some of the best hotels in Victoria and beyond. This program now serves over five hundred local families of children with special needs. Only words from the recipients of this annual program can begin to describe its value to them: “Thank you so much for arranging our stay at the lovely Victoria Regent Hotel. It truly is a luxury that I would have otherwise never been able to afford myself. We were ready for a break as the last few months have been particularly stressful — just to step away from “stuff” even for a short time is so nice.”
The magnitude of the role of being a caregiver of a child with special needs truly hits home when I learn that even with the donation of this generous gift, many parents cannot partake because they simply have no one to leave their child with for even one night a year. This is where the innovation of the program comes in, because over the years Mimi has adapted it to meet the needs of these parents with what she calls “complimentary enhancements.” Teaming with another twenty or more businesses, Cridge Respitality Services might send the parents flowers, offer tickets to local entertainment venues, give them a certificate to have their car serviced, or even tickets to take their child swimming at Commonwealth Place. “It makes me weep just to think of the love and joy that being a part of The Cridge Respitality Program has brought to my life” says a happy parent.
And the innovation of the program carries on, and that is where Mimi’s Happy Volunteers come in. I met up with five volunteers on the beautiful property of The Cridge Centre for the Family one morning to watch them creating gift baskets which have become an integral part of The Cridge Respitality Program. The volunteers meet once a month to create beautiful themed baskets that are wrapped and decorated with love and loaded with goodies. The baskets are delivered to the hotels by another volunteer so that the parents have a delightful treat waiting for them when they enter their hotel room for their overnight stay.
In speaking with the five volunteers who fill these baskets, I heard that not only was it “the spark called Mimi” that led most of them to this job, but it was the interest, camaraderie and the fun of working with this group that has drawn these people together. One volunteer has a son with autism and benefits from this program annually herself. She volunteers as her way of giving back, while another woman makes the gift cards that go into the baskets. Another woman who was a social worker is drawn to the strong and interesting women she meets along the way, women who would “throw themselves under a bus” to care for their children.
While some of the volunteers expressed concern that The Cridge Centre for the Family isn’t well known in the community, another pointed out that those who have used their services certainly know who they are. One volunteer called The Cridge “the happiest place on earth,” a place where people are loved for WHO they are, and not WHAT they are. And the lone male volunteer in the group made a profound comment about today’s society when he said “for evil to happen, good people have to do nothing.” This group of volunteers has found a unique way to pay back to their community. The caregivers of children with special needs in the Cridge Respitality Service who get their own time once a year to be spoiled, say it best themselves:
I am so thankful for the Cridge Respitality Program. In all of my journey into the intimidating and amazing world of living with a child with complex special needs, I have never felt so valued, so cared for, and so pampered! The lovely added touch of the beautiful gift baskets are such an added treat. Who doesn’t love chocolate!?
My goodness — thank you from the bottom of our hearts – we had the best evening and we owe it all to you. Thank you for the amazing respite you provide. We got to forget all about our grueling life for a whole magical evening.
I especially appreciated the thoughtful gift basket that was waiting in the room. As parents of a child with autism, any resources we might normally have for “extras” like this night away go towards his therapy and therapy accessories. This program is such a treat for us and so appreciated!
Click to learn more about The Cridge Centre for the Family Respite & Respitality Services