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Guest Editorial – Making Guelph a Better Place

My personal journey with St. John Ambulance began in the fall of 2004, because of a booth set up in the University Centre during a volunteer fair. Being involved in so many on-campus activities attracted me even more to this opportunity to discover what was beyond campus and give back to the City of Guelph. Little did I know what I was about to set in motion and how it would change my life.
Over the past eight years I have learned a great deal about the city and have had the opportunity to get to know an amazing group of volunteers that devote over 15,000 hours every year to benefit our community. I started out as a member of the medical first response unit #220, and have since become a trained ground searcher with our search and rescue team and also a first aid instructor. And these are only a few of the volunteer groups that work through St. John Ambulance. There is also a therapy dog program, a youth division and the First Response Team at the University of Guelph.
As medical first responders, we are requested to attend a diverse collection of community events just in case someone is injured or sick. We are volunteers trained with advanced first aid skills and equipped with some useful tools to help in emergency situations. Instead of payment, we rely on donations that allow us to continue to train and equip volunteers. Our volunteers are typically looking for experience, confidence, or a way to give back to the community. Some volunteer for a brief period, as a stepping stone to paramedicine, policing or medical school, while others have been with the organization for over 50 years.
Volunteers typically start with Standard First Aid and as they gain experience and confidence they take a week long Advanced Medical First Responder course. To ensure we are ready to respond in an emergency we also attend weekly training meetings. During these meetings we may have a guest speaker from one of the amazing resources available in our city, or we may have hands-on practice with all of the equipment, or even simulate an emergency response. The amount of commitment and dedication that this group demonstrates is inspiring.
A sub-group of the medical first response unit is Search and Rescue Guelph. Volunteers further commit to training in search and rescue techniques, so that if the need for assistance arises, the Guelph Police Service and OPP have a pool of trained searchers available. Some of the SAR volunteers are also certified trainers of the Hug-A-Tree and Survive program. We go out to community groups typically between Grades 3-6 to present this awareness program that teaches children how to not get lost, and what to do if they become lost, so that searchers can find them.
Beyond the Medical First Response Unit there are many other outstanding volunteers that give back to the community. The volunteers in our therapy dog program work in very special teams. Handlers with their dogs bring comfort, joy and companionship to members of our community who are sick, lonely or reside in full-time care facilities. Residents reap the therapeutic benefits of the unconditional love of a four-legged friend. Other teams are working on a pilot with the Guelph Public Library in a reading program where children can read to a dog and build their confidence.
The youth program provides students in the community with an opportunity to develop their first aid skills, and explore careers in first response.  As a charitable organization, proceeds from St. John Ambulance First Aid training courses help subsidize training and equipping of our volunteers so they can continue to benefit the Guelph community in all of these different ways.
Geoffrey Collins is unit chief, St. John Ambulance,
Medical First Response Unit, Guelph

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