As the semester chugs along, the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is often the holiday season. Even if they don’t celebrate anything in December, students can still look forward to the sweet relief of having no school responsibilities.
For those that do celebrate the holiday season, there is often plenty to look forward to. But Jillanne Bowler recently found a bit of a hole in her holiday.
“Christmas had become sort of materialistic for me,” says the MacEwan University business student. Her 85-year-old grandmother often reminds her of how lonely old age can be for those who don’t have visitors. Bowler put two and two together, and to fill what she felt was missing in her holiday season, she started Elf Anonymous.
The premise is simple: Elf Anonymous is a non-denominational organization that partners with a seniors’ home in the Edmonton region to spend some time with a select group of seniors who may not have any visitors for the holiday season. Elf Anonymous volunteers come bearing gifts, whether they are toiletries, cultural mementos or comfort items, and they will stay to visit with the seniors as well.
Bowler likened the program to Operation Christmas Child, which encourages donors to put together shoeboxes filled with basic items for children in need across the world. But it’s the face-to-face contact that Bowler feels sets her organization apart.
It was named similarly to Santas Anonymous, continuing the theme of giving back during the holiday season. Bowler notes that she chose the name because she thought about how elves do all the work making toys for children, while Santa takes all the credit. It’s also how Bowler feels about seniors, who are often a “forgotten part of society,” though they have been an integral part of their communities all their lives.
“I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a really long time,” she says, adding that it wasn’t until this year that she decided to take the next step and touch base with seniors’ homes in the Edmonton region. It was the Rosedale Developments assisted living home in St. Albert that first responded to Bowler and has since agreed to be the first home to work with Elf Anonymous.
Lately, Bowler has been busy recruiting volunteers for the holiday season. Rosedale has been very accommodating, according to Bowler, and has provided a list of 13 seniors who may not have any visitors this holiday season. Her goal is to find 20 volunteers, and then expand operations from there.
The Rosedale Developments location in Griesbach is also interested in participating, but Bowler wants to secure a volunteer base before she expands.
So far, she has started by recruiting students, but she is hoping to open up the volunteering to others, especially families with young children. She hopes that the children could learn a thing or two from those with eight times the life experience.
One of the main draws to volunteering with an initiative like Elf Anonymous is exactly that: the chance to learn. Often, people volunteer for the sake of giving and the rewarding feeling that they get. But Bowler says that this type of volunteering can be even more beneficial because participants are able to learn from others’ first-hand experiences.
“Any experience you have — whether it is paid or volunteer — you’re going to learn from it,” she says.
She’s hoping the relationship is so beneficial for both the volunteers and the seniors that it continues even past Elf Anonymous. One of Bowler’s goals is to help foster relationships that last so that some seniors will have periodic visitors for life.
She also hopes the idea catches on — not only here in Edmonton, but in other cities as well.
“Give yourself the opportunity to meet a stranger and make a difference in their life,” she advises. By making their lives a little bit better, perhaps a volunteer’s life will get a little better, too.
To volunteer with Elf Anonymous, visit the website.
Photos by Casey Pollon.