For Alison, Holland Bloorview is like a second home
Growing up, Alison’s family made it a holiday tradition to brave the cold, head out to a tree farm and cut down the year’s Christmas tree.
Alison fondly remembers riding in the toboggan and watching her father chop down the tree. Then he and her older sister would drag it back to the car, chilly but content.
Today, Alison is hoping her husband, Peter, will take over this tradition in the future when their one-year-old son, also named Peter, gets a little bigger.
“I have such fun memories of that,” said Alison. “We haven’t done it since I was a kid…so that’s my plan. I don’t know if that’s my husband’s plan, but we’ll have our snowsuits ready.”
Alison is a well-known Holland Bloorview alumnus whose life is intertwined with the hospital. She was born with sacral agenesis which means she was born without a portion of her lower spine. She’s paraplegic and uses a wheelchair to get around.
Alison first came to Holland Bloorview when she was six months old and essentially grew up with the hospital. Some of her first memories are splashing around in the hospital’s warm pool.
“I completed my Tadpole lessons here,” she said proudly. “I still have my badge.”
She also has memories of appointments with her team that comprised of her orthopaedic surgeon, physiotherapists and other specialists, as well as a social worker. “Even though I was coming for medical appointments, I loved coming here,” she said.
When her parents drove her to the hospital, the car would pass colourful bricks along Bayview Avenue which always made her smile. “That was my indication that we were close,” she said.
Alison steps behind the mic
When Alison was old enough, she became an Ambassador and hospital spokesperson. Those first few events involved a lot of deep breaths and moments of anxiousness. But with every event she grew a little more sure of herself. Eventually, she became a confident seasoned pro.
“I did all the third-party events for a year which was an amazing invaluable experience,” she said. “I learned at a young age the importance of saying thank you, how important fundraising was, and how important donors were.”
By age 12, she spoke at as many as 20 events a year. “I loved it so much that I ended up doing events for a number of years,” she said. “I never, said ‘no’. If I was asked to do something, I took it very seriously.”
That included being front and centre for the official ceremonies for the ribbon cutting of the new Holland Bloorview building in 2006.
With so much involvement in the Foundation, shifting from volunteer to employee was only natural. She joined the hospital’s Foundation in 2009 after finishing her degree in Sociology at McMaster University the year before.
“I grew up always wanting to work here,” said Alison who is now a Development Officer for Annual Programs.
“What I wanted to do changed,” she added. “It went from doctor to nurse, to physiotherapist, to child life specialist. I never thought of the administrative side, I always thought I wanted a hands-on client focused job, but I’ve been really surprised by how happy I am fundraising. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
What does she love about working here? “What don’t I love?” she beamed.
“Obviously it’s the children. This place just feels like a warm hug when you come in the building. Whether you’re staff, family or a volunteer, it’s familiar faces, it’s good vibes, it’s hopeful, it’s happy, it just feels good to be here.”
She’s also feeling good about the upcoming holidays, happy with what she’s accomplished and with where she is in life.
“I always wanted a family, I wanted kids, I wanted a job. I knew I’d go to university,” she said. “Those were my goals, and I’ve been able to do all those things because I’ve had the proper support, at home, in friendships, and here.”
Now if she can only convince Peter to get the toboggan out next year…