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Nanny Angel Michelle Donais

Meet Nanny Angel Michelle

Like the children she cares for, Michelle Donais has parents with cancer. She has witnessed firsthand just how painfully difficult it can be to deal with the illness and its treatments, along with day-to-day life, let alone caring for young children on top of it all.

Michelle has spent her life dedicating her free time to organizations benefiting children with cancer. She’s volunteered at summer camps for children with cancer, participated in fundraising events, and even plans to cycle Canada from coast to coast in order to raise awareness and funds for children with the disease. After learning about the Nanny Angel Network, Michelle submitted an application and was welcomed into the organization.

Michelle volunteers with a family that’s close to NAN’s heart. She looks after two young girls who recently lost their mother, Sherri. The parallels between their grief and Michelle’s own struggles as she cared for her own sick parents have brought her and the girls together.

“As Sherri’s cancer was progressing, I was also dealing with my own Mom’s cancer progression,” Michelle says. “I ended up moving back to my parent’s home for several months and wasn’t able to physically be with the girls because of the geography, so I arranged with their father to Skype with the girls as often as I could.”

“Their mother and my Mom shared many of the same symptoms and effects of the cancer and treatments, experiences in and out of the hospital, and their desire to be at home as their diseases advanced.” The similarities between their situations weren’t lost on the girls, either. They’d often ask Michelle questions about her own mother’s illness, which led to a dialogue about their feelings and concerns.

“They did ask me questions about my Mom and her illness, that I knew related to what Sherri was going through,” Michelle says. These questions included ‘Can your Mommy eat anything?’ (she had an NG tube, similar to their mother, and was able to eat very little), and ‘Where does she sleep?’ (in a hospital bed in the living room, also similar to their mother). “The training we were given from NAN helped me to answer them and also connect with them through our shared experiences,” Michelle says.

NAN used every resource possible to support Michelle and the family she cared for through the mother’s illness, treatment, and death. “The support from the NAN team has been tremendous. As Sherri’s disease progressed, the NAN team was incredible with providing us with various tools and resources to support the family,” Michelle says.

“Many years ago, I heard a quote that had a big impact on me: ‘No one can do anything about the quantity of life, but we all can do something about the quality.’ Being able to support Sherri during her illness, and provide her with much needed time for respite, while at the same time creating a fun environment for her kids, was meaningful and important to Sherri and her family. This has been a life changing experience for me, and I know that volunteering as a Nanny Angel has created a meaningful difference, not only for this family but also for myself. I’ve created a special bond with this family that I hope will last a lifetime.”

Volunteer Michelle with one of her NAN children, Hanora

Michelle with one of her NAN children, Hanora

A Mom’s Story: Beth

“One of the cutest things is that she kind of sees the Nanny Angel as a friend who is coming over to visit her. I’ve just kept it like that, I don’t call her a babysitter.  It’s like her special friend who is an adult. So, I think that makes her feel kind of special. It’ll be a sad day on our last Nanny Angel visit.”

Raising a 4-year-old is challenging no matter which way you cut it. Add on a cancer diagnosis and you’re on a whole different playing field. This is the reality that Beth and her husband Todd were forced to confront in 2015.

Beth was first diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2015 and underwent a mastectomy soon after. Surgery was followed by chemotherapy, chemotherapy by radiation, and radiation by more medication. “The biggest challenge was probably looking after my daughter, for sure,” Beth said.

During the first few months of treatment, Beth and Todd struggled to juggle an overwhelming number of doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy sessions, and medical decisions while still trying to maintain some normalcy for their daughter, Charlotte. Beth had to constantly arrange for family, friends, or paid help to look after Charlotte. “I could never let a day go by where there was nobody involved,” she said. One chemotherapy treatment was particularly bad because its side effects were so unpredictable. “It was a bit unsettling not knowing how bad I was going to feel with the next treatment or how much help I was going to need.”

When the Nanny Angel Network stepped in, taking care of Charlotte suddenly became one less thing Beth had to worry about. Having a Nanny Angel meant there was someone who Beth could consistently rely on to care for Charlotte – no questions asked or favours owed. Having a few extra hours each week meant that Beth could take the chance to sleep or read a book. As she moved farther along her recovery journey and regained strength, she joined an exercise class that helped her get back into shape and return to a more normal rhythm of life. One evening, Beth and Todd got to go out for dinner while the Nanny Angel was over – a rare opportunity they hadn’t had in a very long time.

While Beth has since recovered and graduated from the Nanny Angel Network’s services, her and Charlotte cherish the memories of their Nanny Angel – and the help she provided to their whole family.

Charlotte and her Nanny Angel, Jen

Audrey Guth: 2017 Women of Worth Honouree

Audrey Guth: 2017 Women of Worth Honouree

In early 2017, the Nanny Angel Network was thrilled to announce that NAN founder Audrey Guth had been named a recipient of L’Oréal Paris’s inaugural Canadian Women of Worth program.

The signature philanthropic program embodies the L’Oréal Paris belief that ‘Every Woman Is Worth It’ by elevating and celebrating women who find beauty in giving back. The 10 Women of Worth Honourees were celebrated and awarded more than $100,000 in charitable grants at an Awards Gala on March 8, International Women’s Day, hosted by L’Oréal Paris spokesperson, award-winning actress and humanitarian, Blake Lively.

“We have been inspired and awestruck by the hundreds of Women of Worth nominations we received about extraordinary Canadian women who are selflessly volunteering their time and talents to make Canada a better place,” said Stephanie Binette, General Manager, L’Oréal Paris in Canada. “Our first Canadian Women of Worth are advocates for refugees and the homeless, and champions for women and youth in need, among many other important causes. We applaud this year’s Honourees.”

The Women of Worth program honours Canadian women who selflessly volunteer their time to serve and improve their communities. In its inaugural year in Canada, the program received more than 350 nominations which were judged by L’Oréal Paris, Points of Light, the world’s largest volunteer service organization, and esteemed volunteer leadership experts. Selection criteria was based on the impact of the cause on the social fabric of the community, the nominee’s ability to meet an unmet community need or concern, as well as the passion and innovation she has demonstrated to effect change.

2017 L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth Honouree Audrey Guth with actress Blake Lively

2016 Nanny Angel of the Year Award

Every year, we recognize the outstanding commitment, dedication and enthusiasm of one of our Nanny Angel volunteers.

Meet our 2016 Nanny Angel of the Year, Verna Ross.

Verna has been a dedicated Nanny Angel since April 2014. In her time with NAN, she has logged over 350 hours and provided support to 10 families. Verna has touched many lives. Below is just one example of the difference she makes for the families she supports.

“A very big thank you to Verna for her absolute devotion and dedication. She is truly an angel. She has shown so much love, care and kindness to me and my son.  My son eagerly looks forward to their outings together and I can tell when he gets home from each outing that he’s had so much fun.” – Felicia, NAN Mom

When asked why she chooses to volunteer her time with the Nanny Angel Network, Verna expressed how much she appreciates having the opportunity to share her expertise in childcare. Verna was beyond gracious when we presented her with the award, saying, “it is a privilege to be a Nanny Angel and an honour to have mothers entrust their children to me during their struggle with cancer. Your organization has enabled me to reach out to mothers who both need and appreciate help. My volunteering experience with NAN has been very rewarding and special.”

Congratulations to Verna on being awarded our 2016 Nanny Angel of the Year!

Our work at the Nanny Angel Network would not be possible without amazing volunteers like Verna. We appreciate all our Nanny Angels for volunteering their time, opening up their heart and providing support to NAN families when they need it most.

Volunteering in Retirement

Choosing to volunteer your time in retirement comes with a host of benefits. From providing a transition from working life to retired life, to giving you a sense of purpose, to connecting you to a network of other volunteers, there are many ways in which volunteering as a retiree can improve your life. There are even health benefits – former director of the Centre on Aging at the University of Victoria, Neena Chappell, reports that retirees who volunteer, “especially if it involves helping others, are happier and healthier in their later years.”

Dianne Levy is a retired teacher who has been volunteering with the Nanny Angel Network since early 2015. She says that she decided to begin volunteering because she “wanted to help others and give back to the community.” When asked why she choose NAN over other organizations, Dianne replied that she picked NAN because she could see the need for the Nanny Angel Network in the community, and was impressed by Audrey, the founder of the organization. She added that Angel’s make an incredible difference in the lives of families going through cancer treatment and recovery.

Dianne has been volunteering almost as long as she has been retired, giving her a firm grasp on what volunteering in retirement is like. “If you have the time and you want to give back and enjoy the feeling of giving, do it,” Dianne said when asked what she would say to someone who is about to retire and is thinking about volunteering. “There is no better feeling than to be needed and appreciated.” Dianne also emphasized that choosing an organization that is a good fit for you is important when deciding whether or not to volunteer in retirement. “To be an Angel you have to be a certain type of individual,” she said. “Not everyone I know would be suited to this type of volunteer position.” Of course, the Nanny Angel Network has plenty of volunteer positions beyond Nanny Angels, including providing help in the office as well as roles around fundraising.

We also asked Dianne if she had a favourite story from her time volunteering with NAN that she’d like to share, and she was happy to tell us all about the kids she works with.

One story makes me laugh. We go to the park when the weather is conducive for playing outdoors. The two children I work with are 6 and 3. We play pretend. In their eyes, I am a kid, not a grandmother. They asked me to climb the monkey bars.  I am a Princess, a Queen, a fireman, and a witch. Their imaginations are endless. Little are they aware that my joints are not what they used to be. In their minds, they think I am a youngster with unlimited energy and dexterity. It makes me laugh because in a few years, I will be an old lady to them, but now, I am just a kid.

Dianne told NAN that volunteering has really taught her a lot, including patience and understanding. “It has brought out my imagination. Volunteering has channeled the child in me. I have become a better person. I have learned to be grateful and to cherish ALL moments.” When asked if she had any last comments, Dianne emphasized again how important she sees the work that NAN does. “I think the Nanny Angel Network is truly amazing,” she says, adding, “I just wish more people were aware of this agency because there is such a great need for this service.”

The Nanny Angel Network is always looking for new Nanny Angels to join our team of dedicated volunteers! To become a Nanny Angel, you must have one year of recent professional childcare experience, which can include being a professional nanny, nursing, teaching, social work, or a student currently enrolled in programs for careers involving childcare. You must also be a legal resident of Canada, physically and mentally fit to provide unsupervised care for children, a minimum of 18 years of age, have a clear vulnerable sector police check (which can be arranged through NAN)), current CPR and First Aid training (also can be arranged through NAN), and two references related to childcare experience. The Nanny Angel Network also provides specialized training for all of our volunteers, which includes a seminar on Grief and Loss with Andrea Warnick.

If you’d like to become a Nanny Angel with NAN, fill out our online application!

Dianne Levy

Dianne Levy photographed by Omar Duragos


Text: Jensine Jones       Sources: theglobeandmail.com