​​​​Mike DiMichele the Volunteer at UHN and George Sandhu a patient at UHN
"I come for the patients, because I know what it’s like," says Mike DiMichele (L), a volunteer in the gift shop at Toronto Rehab Bickle Centre, chatting with patient George Sandhu. "I feel a personal connection to Bickle." (Photo: UHN)


Mondays are good days at Toronto Rehab’s Bickle Centre, where patients requiring complex continuing care are often here for extended stays. That’s the day volunteer Mike DiMichele oversees the hospital’s gift shop – a popular gathering spot for patients. 

​National Volunteer Week
April 15-21, 2018​​

Everyone is invited to take some time to recognize the volunteers in UHN departments, clinics, units, waiting rooms and at information de​sks.

“It’s a place where people go to hang out and talk to each other,” says George Sandhu, a 33-year-old patient on the Transitional Care Unit. “I’ve actually met a lot of other patients through the gift shop.” 

But without Mike at the helm, the gift shop would be whole lot duller, he says.  

“I like every one of the volunteers here at Bickle,” George says. “But Mike is so talkative and outgoing, and he’s always making jokes.” 

The feeling is mutual, says Mike, a retired chef who has volunteered at Bickle for about 18 years. 

“Sometimes I get a crowd of three or four patients visiting me in the gift shop at one time,” Mike says. “They buy coffee or a snack and we talk and share stories. It’s fantastic.” 

But the value of Mike’s volunteerism reaches far beyond casual conversation.  

His son, Joseph, was a patient at Bickle for 15 years, before passing away in 2015. Every day, Mike would see, first hand, how isolating an extended stay in the hospital can become. 

“Staff are busy, and don’t necessarily have the time to visit with patients,” says Mike. “That’s where the role of the volunteer comes in.

“We’re not only here to help the patients, but be a friend to people who need it.” 

Having volunteers such as Mike is an incredible benefit to patients, families and our team, says Paula Cripps-McMartin, Clinical Director, Bickle Centre. 

“They are able to offer support and compassion in a different way, which enhances the care we provide,” she says. “Their contributions, whether it be in a gift shop, with organized recreation and leisure activities, or by visiting the units, are appreciated by all members of the team. 

“The volunteers at Bickle are a perfect example of this year’s Volunteer Week theme: ‘building confidence, competence, connections and community.’”  

For George, Mike is also someone he can relate to.  

“He’s told me about his son, and it makes me feel comfortable to know that he’s been through a lot of the same experiences as I have,” George says. “He understands me, and everything that has happened to me.”

And, if you ask Mike, that’s exactly what motivates him to travel to Toronto from Mississauga weekly.​

“I come for the patients, because I know what it’s like,” Mike says. “If it were anywhere else, I would have quit a long time ago. But I feel a personal connection to Bickle.” 

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