​​​​​Image of Aziam sitting outside
Aziam Howes says volunteering at Toronto Rehab “allows me to further develop my skills and gain valuable experience while also being of service to others.” (Photo: UHN)

Aziam Howes has a background in coaching and kinesiology. He's a new father. He's inspired by the care his uncle received at Toronto Rehab. As he explains in this Q&A, there are many reasons – and rewards – to volunteering, which Aziam began in September 2014 and continues in two separate placements.

​National Volunteer Week
​April 12-18, 2015

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Q: What attracted you to Toronto Rehab in particular?

A: The remarkable patient care. I discovered TRI after my uncle suffered a stroke in the fall of 2013 and was transferred to TRI from another hospital for his recovery. The care that he received from the entire team was remarkable and he was able to regain function quite rapidly. The staff and therapists did a fantastic job providing attentive and individualized care with a positive attitude.

Witnessing his transformation inspired me to use my kinesiology background to contribute as a volunteer. I was also attracted to the philosophy of care at TRI: patients are not seen sick and unwell, but as active participants in their own recovery. This enables a positive atmosphere for patients, staff and volunteers...and I wanted to be a part of it.

Q: What motivates you to stay involved?

A: Seeing that my contributions have a real and measurable impact motivates me to stay involved with Toronto Rehab. I've seen how the employees work very hard every day to provide an optimal environment for their patients' recovery. Often this involves multitasking and going above and beyond their job descriptions. I take satisfaction in being an extra pair of hands for the therapists, knowing that they are able to work more efficiently thanks to the help I provide. In addition, I am motivated to stay involved to continue to use skills that I have developed in my own field of practice. I was an athlete for several years, and due to an injury I changed paths. I have been working as a fitness trainer for many years and recently graduated from university. Volunteering allows me to further develop my skills and gain valuable experience while also being of service to others.


Q: Talk about some of the people you've met while volunteering.

A: All the staff and patients have been a pleasure to work with. For example, one of the Occupational Therapists was especially helpful to me when I first started. He went out of his way to help me troubleshoot some technical issues on one of my first assignments. What started out as a simple computer error turned into quite a puzzle, especially since the printer and the computer were on opposite ends of the hospital. He wouldn't give up and we hiked across the hospital together several times until we finally got the computer connected, enabling me to complete my assignment. I'm very thankful for his determination.

I have also had the pleasure of meeting wonderful people in the Upper Extremity Circuit Training class that I assist with on Thursdays. Three individuals in particular were attending the group on a regular basis before I began volunteering and made my initial transition into the class comfortable and easy. They each bring great energy to the class, are determined and focused, and engage me in interesting conversation. They inspire me. I look forward to working with them each week.

Q: What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering?

A: Toronto Rehab is a rewarding place to invest one's precious time. The entire experience, from applying to training to placement, is clearly defined and well managed which results in more productive volunteers who are placed in roles that match their skills and interests and contribute to the overall success of units within TRI.

TRI is a place for healing, and being an active part of peoples' transformation is a privilege and a joy.

It is also a responsibility that will challenge you to be better. One of the simple ways in which I challenge myself is by remembering the names of every person that I meet at TRI. This is one way of showing care. Since I've never been particularly good at remembering names, I took this as a personal challenge. This practice makes me feel more connected to people in the TRI community.

Q: What sort of impact do you feel you have at Toronto Rehab?

A: I make a conscious effort to be positive and inclusive and I do believe this has a positive effect on the patients' experiences and outcomes. Taking time to say hello, asking questions and listening carefully to responses is an important part of building rapport and relationships as a volunteer. With my background in coaching and kinesiology, I also apply my knowledge of exercise science and movement of the human body in my volunteer roles. This is particularly useful when I volunteer with the Upper Extremity Circuit Training group. It would be a burden on the therapist running the class if I had to ask or be told what to do every step along the way. During the class I follow the lead of the therapist in charge and provide support by thinking quickly to find and explain new exercises that keep the patients engaged and appropriately challenged during the class.

Q: What did you study in school? What are your career aspirations?

I studied Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto. Kinesiology is about understanding the science of human movement through biomechanics, anatomy, and physiology then applying these principles to health and wellness, or to the improvement of function. I am passionate about the rehabilitation and sport performance aspects of kinesiology. I plan to combine my passion for sport and coaching with rehabilitation by pursuing my Masters in Physical Therapy and becoming a Physiotherapist in a hospital setting, or with professional athletes.

Q: What other information you would like to share about yourself?

A: I was formerly an undefeated amateur boxer, winning tournaments in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. I won the Golden Gloves of Ontario tournament in the Heavyweight division and was planning to compete professionally but my boxing career was cut short due to a recurring injury. I re-evaluated my long-term goals and decided to go to university and begin an academic career instead. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Boxing was a great life experience because it gave me the discipline I needed at the time and taught me how to develop specific skills through hard work and dedication. These lessons can be applied to any aspect of my life and will shape my character forever.

I am the proud father of a three-month old girl, Desta. I had always heard that having children can be one of the greatest joys in life but I wasn't able to understand to what extent until she came into my life. Her smiles are like beams of sunshine. To capture her joy, I have recently discovered a new hobby as an amateur photographer. ​Thanks to the convenience of digital photography, my wife and I take more photos every month than I'm able to admit to of our baby girl. To give order to all of these images and videos, I spend some time every week sorting through the files to select the best shots for a rapidly expanding digital photo album which has become a pleasure to share with family and friends.

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